I have a great deal of admiration and respect for military people, in both history and in our own times. A certain bumper sticker always makes me smile: “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you are reading it in English, thank a soldier.” OK. It’s simplistic, but it has a grain of truth. A whole loaf, in fact. We owe our military people for everything—for our very way of life.
I recently revisited the Always Lost exhibit which honors those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The title comes from Gertrude Stein, the American writer who survived the Nazi occupation of her beloved Paris: “War is never fatal but always lost. Always lost.”) The focus of the exhibit is the Wall of the Dead—huge panels of wallet-sized photos of men and women we have lost since 9-11. Those faces, smiling, pensive, stern—7,000 of them now—are challenging to say the least. The rest of the exhibit consists of visual images: photos (some taken by professional journalists, some by service members) and written images: poetry and meditations. (I am proud to be a part of the latter.) But those panels of photos really get to you! They are as moving—and sobering—as all those names chiseled into the Vietnam Wall in Washington.
The exhibit has been replicated. One copy is touring Nevada, the other the nation (currently Minnesota, then on to California and Texas). A group in New York also wants it. Reproducing all those pictures, mounting the displays, packaging and crating them for shipping are all expensive—let alone the sad task of keeping the exhibit current.
And the money has dried up!
Every tear-jerker story on the internet prompts people to dig out their checkbooks. Congress continues to fund barrels and barrels of pork—not to mention $400 hammers and the like. Surely . . .
A century and a half ago, Abraham Lincoln enjoined us to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . ”
But first we must remember them.
And not just them. Also those tens of thousands who have returned to us maimed in body or spirit.
We owe them that much.
Always Lost helps us remember.