They were and remain my friends, and memories of them come back to me from time to time -- in particular, on days like today.
Many things united us. One was the knowledge that we might die for our service. Another was the belief that probably, we would not.
We cheated death together for the first time at Airborne School. Afterwards we made the long ride back to West Point from Benning, grinning and joking, and sure we were conquerors. 9/11 came, and we were ready for the fray, the fight, the defense of our nation. We were brave, and we were fearless, and we knew that it wouldn't be us.
There are now so many names. Too many names. Each one an American, every one a story. Taken together they, the names, are a scroll of blood, spilled for our country. These names left behind moms and dads, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons. And friends like me. The void is still there. It announces itself with an empty pair of boots at every gathering. We continue our lives, but there the boots stand, in their thousands.
I think of my son's Sunday School classmate, whose father died in Afghanistan. I think of that ride from Fort Benning, and of West Point commencement, and of Fort Knox graduation -- and I remember the call that came from another friend a few months later. I had just returned from Iraq. My friend would not. I remember another friend from Fort Knox, a Marine. I read about his death in the paper. I know more names will be added to the lists in the paper, however hard I hope against it, and I brace for the days when I see a face I know.
What we can do is remember. And I know that, in thinking of the names, and of the lives that went with them, we honor those who are gone, and unite those who remain. A chorus calls out: these honored dead fought for their country. It is a truth that all of us share. It is a truth that sends us searching for the rest of what makes of us one. It is a call to common cause in decency. It is a hymn to justice and freedom and peace. A chorus sings: these truths are worth defending. And so we do what we can, and we do what we must: we defend these Unites States as those whose boots are left behind once did.
Today I pause, and I remember them, and I think of our service together. I ache for the loss of their families. I am proud to have called them my sisters and brothers. And I promise them that we will always defend America and honor their sacrifice. Be thou at peace.