We have written editorials in the past of the importance of dissociating the service member from the conflict. On no day is this distinction more important than on Memorial Day, when we honor the fallen, rather than that for which they fell.
Woodrow Wilson put it perfectly when on Memorial Day in 1914 he said: “I can never speak in praise of war, ladies and gentlemen; you would not desire me to do so. But there is this peculiar distinction belonging to the soldier, that he goes into an enterprise out of which he himself cannot get anything at all. He is giving everything that he hath, even his life, in order that others may live, not in order that he himself may obtain gain and prosperity.”
Last year at Stanford’s Memorial Day Ceremony, Tobias Wolff, a noted writer and Vietnam War veteran, came to speak about the ways we remember, talk about and write about our wars and the unreliability of memory itself. It was a profound lecture that resonated with the mostly veteran audience. Last year’s ceremony ended with a recitation by a student veteran of an excerpt from Wolff’s book, “In Pharaoh’s Army”:
“Instead of remembering Hugh as I knew him, I too often think of him in terms of what he never had a chance to be. The things the rest of us know, he will not know. He will not know what it is to make a life with someone else. To have a child slip in beside him as he lies reading on a Sunday morning. To work at, and then look back on, a labor of years. Watch the decline of his parents, and attend their dissolution. Lose faith. Pray anyway. Persist. We are made to persist, to complete the whole tour. That’s how we find out who we are.”
We would like to leave you with an obvious but important and powerful point: Stanford’s students, faculty, staff, and affiliates have fought and died in almost every major conflict since the University’s inception. They had no illusions of greatness or glory, instead simply answering the call of a country in need. Now that they are gone, it is incumbent upon us, as Wolff reminds us, to persist in their stead, to look back on the labor of their years, to celebrate their lives and honor their sacrifice.
Those who have died will never be able to make a life with someone else, but that does not mean that we should let them disappear from our own lives. It is easy to bike by Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium and forget that it is named for and dedicated to the Stanford alumni who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War. And yet the call to military service is one that endures at Stanford. Many recent graduates have joined the forces, such as Jake Klonoski J.D. ‘13, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. All have done so with an awareness of the risks, many having lost their dearest of friends to war. And so let us take this coming Monday, Memorial Day, to reflect on this fact.
We can be proud of all Stanford alumni, from those who go out to teach in underserved communities to those who design search engines that change the world. But on Monday let us reserve a special node of pride in our hearts for those who left the safety and comfort of Stanford University and gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that others might live.
We invite the entire Stanford community to please attend the annual Memorial Day barbecue tomorrow, Thursday, May 22 at 5:15 p.m. at CERAS 101. Col. Joe Felter (U.S. Army (retired)), Ph.D. ‘05, will speak about his experiences and reflect on the importance of this day.
Matthew Colford ‘14
Tim Hsia MBA ‘14 J.D. ‘14
Matthew Colford and Tim Hsia are the student leaders of the Military Service as Public Service Program at the Haas Center. Contact them at mcolford “at” stanford.edu and timhsia “at” stanford.edu.