This past Memorial Day weekend, I spent some time thinking about the roots of the peace and prosperity we enjoy in this country. I live on a farm in Western Iowa, where green rolling hills planted in corn, soybeans, and alfalfa stretch for miles and miles, dotted intermittently with farmsteads, barns, and silos. When reading Tolkein, I always imagined that the Shire looked much like our community. We have friendly neighbors who are there to help in times of need, and we all work hard trying to make a living. We can live in peace because of what others have done before us. Let me mention a few of those people.
Within a mile of my home, two young men left home in the fall of 1941. My dad was one of them, and our neighbor, Lester Wells, was the other. I never knew Lester, as he did not return. But I knew his father, Earl, who is now deceased, was a fine man. His sister, Rosemary, is still my neighbor. I imagine Lester was a fine man, too. My father tried to look him up when he was overseas, as both of them served in the European theater. Seeing someone from home would be a welcome sight, but he learned that his neighbor and friend did not make it. So many did not make it. We must not forget them.
My father served in the Third Armored Division, which landed on Omaha beach and made their way through France, Belgium, and Germany during the war. They were in the Battle of the Bulge, and they witnessed the horrors of the internment camp at Nordhausen. They came face to face with the brutality of evil (yes, it does exist) and the hardships that must be endured to oppose it. To borrow the term from Stephen Ambrose, they were citizen soldiers, and they did their duty. And then they went home.
Before my dad left for the Service on December 6, 1941, he put the finishing touches on a barn that is found behind my home. Four years later, he returned and milked cows and stored hay in that barn. He then went on to work hard to make it possible for us kids to have a better life. He succeeded.
We also worked in that barn when I was growing up, and my children now have their horses and chickens in that barn. During cold spring days, our cows have their calves in that barn. It is a warm, sheltering place. It must have seemed so to him during cold nights in the Ardennes forest, when that barn seemed but a distant memory.
My father in law served in Korea, which was also no picnic. These fellows get less recognition for what they accomplished, as the fate of the free world did not seem to hang in the balance in that war. But if you asked the people in Seoul how they have fared in a democratic, thriving economy, as compared with their relatives in the North, we all know how they should answer. The folks who served there did not get paid much at the time, but in retrospect there are many who could now not pay them enough to thank them for what they did.
So, as you enjoy a good meal with family around you, and you look out on your equivalent of the Shire, please take a moment to think kindly of those who served, and who are serving now. These people have undoubtedly made the world a better place because they have been in it. From the past, it was men like Lester, who paid the ultimate price, and others like my dad and father-in-law, who gave us a magnificent legacy. As the future unfolds, it will be the young people who are serving in places in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other far-flung regions, whom I hope that future generations will come to appreciate in the same way I appreciate the generations of the past.
I hope your Memorial Day was also meaningful.