26 May 2003
She was a sailor.
She married twice, she bore five children, she lived a life neither all that happy nor all that long; but if you visit the spot of earth where she was laid to rest, the one thing you will know for certain, the one thing perhaps she most wanted you to know, was that she was a sailor.
The uniform changes people. It always has. It's not an instantaneous change, like the flicking of a light switch; it's a slow and gradual change, like sunrise coming over the horizon. And like that sunrise, once it starts, it's impossible to stop.
It has been many years since a major mobilization, many years since the whole nation was called to arms. Fewer of us wear the uniform. And that's a good thing: fewer of us will be placed in harm's way. But it's not such a good thing in another way: fewer of us remember what it means to wear the uniform, to put one's country ahead of oneself. Today there are those who fear the uniform, who distrust those who wear it. Sometimes we say that they have no regard for their country, but that's not really true; they still live and love and work here, just like the rest of us. They simply believe that the world is supposed to be like the Hundred-Acre Wood, and they cannot accept that parts of it are more like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. For some of them, a wake-up call came with the toppling of the Towers; others dream on.
And I don't begrudge them their dream; I, too, wish the world were quieter, more peaceful, more like a children's book. But I also know that it won't happen on its own, and that some of the world's self-proclaimed "peacemakers" desire anything but peace. It takes more than the mere absence of war to produce peace; it takes the combined efforts of people dedicated to the proposition that freedom is worth the price.
You'll recognize those people at once. They wear the uniform.
As did I. As did my brother. As did my sister's husband. As did my father.
And as did my mother; she was a sailor.