May We Never Forget
by Joy Martin, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder
When I was a little girl, my family headed to the East Coast for our annual summer vacation. We had a lot on the agenda that year! We visited family in Maryland and Connecticut. We toured Gettysburg. And we spent a few days roaming Washington, DC, taking in all of the sights. Out of all of the amazing things we did on that vacation, there are two things that stick out in my memory. The first of those memories is the day I first witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The second is when we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
I don’t think I’d ever heard of the Tomb of the Unknowns before that day, and I wasn’t really sure what we were going to see. Honestly, I don’t know how much of my memory of that day is accurate and how much has been filled in by my mind in the years since. But I’ll share with you my recollection, whichever the case.
I remember climbing up into the bleacher-type seating. I remember not quite understanding what all of the fuss was about. As we sat and waited for the changing of the guards to begin, my dad quietly explained to me that in the graves below us were buried three soldiers who were unidentified. They represented countless others who had served our country in the US Armed Forces and lost their lives doing so. The monument stood as a memorial for all of those men and women who had never come home and whose remains were never recovered.
Dad also explained that the tombs were guarded day and night; every, single day of the year; rain, snow, sleet, or shine. The same ceremony we were about to watch took place every hour, on the hour, around the clock. And then the ceremony began.
I remember being struck by the precision of it all—every movement perfectly synchronized and timed. It was clear to me that the guards had been well trained. They knew exactly what to do and when to do it. It was amazing to watch. And as I watched, I began to feel the importance of it all. Perhaps at that young age I didn’t truly understand, but I felt it nonetheless. On the tomb reads the inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American Soldier known but to God.”
And then we visited The Wall, as it’s often called—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, to be precise. Before our visit, we had been told about Dad’s college friend who had been killed in the Vietnam War. I remember listening to him reminisce, although I don’t remember specifics.
I remember seeing The Wall for the first time and being amazed at the size of it. It seemed to just go on and on and on. And then there were the names—rows and rows of names etched in all capital letters. I couldn’t even really wrap my brain around how many names there must have been. I now know that at that time there were 58,266 names, although in 2010 six more were added.
Dad had told us that he wanted to get a rubbing of his friend’s name. I remember approaching a larger-than-life book and watching as Dad carefully turned the huge pages, searching for his friend’s name. I remember following him as he scanned the wall for the proper section. I remember him moving in closer, counting lines and then pausing as he pointed out the name to us: CHARLES JOSEPH CAFFARELLI.
It’s not often that I see my dad cry. But as he gently placed the rectangular paper over his friend’s name and watched the letters appear one by one as he moved the pencil in his left hand back and forth, tears filled his eyes. And that made me cry. In fact, a lump is growing in my throat and I find myself fighting back tears even as I recall that moment.
According to TheWall-USA.com, Charles Joseph Caffarelli was killed in South Vietnam on November 21, 1972, the same day his tour began. His body was never recovered. I know from my dad that he left behind a wife and two young sons.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day. Traditionally, today marks the first day of summer. Often it’s a time when families get together to enjoy the first cookout of the year. For many it’s little more than the last day of the rare three-day weekend.
This year, however, I ask that you take a moment to reflect on why it is that you have the privilege of being able to spend today doing all of those wonderful things. Please take a moment to say a prayer for all of the men and women who have served or are currently serving in our Armed Forces. Pray for their protection and give a prayer of thanks for all they have done and continue to do for our country. Take a moment to pray for the families left behind who are missing their loved ones. And take a moment to pray for all those who have lost loved ones while serving, for they truly have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)