Remembering the soldier

NEIGHBORHOOD barbershop mirrors were festooned with photos and post cards from young servicemen during World War II, a practice that trailed off from the Korean war through Vietnam. Many of those youths, shown often with a girlfriend or with buddies and never sad, never made it home. They were mostly boys, really, whatever the war. The ``boys in uniform,'' went the phrase. (Today it is ``men and women in uniform,'' the emphasis on gender displacing the accent on youth.)

Decals in house windows displayed the branch of service of the soldier or sailor or marine away on duty. Too often there were black ribbons, too.

At war's end, or at each announced decisive stage of the war's end, neighborhoods erupted in joy and noise. Children stood at curbside banging pots and pans while cars passed, horns blaring.

Celebration and silence.

There was happiness that the war was over, the killing and maiming would stop, and there would be reunions of loved ones.

And silence at the cost of restoring peace.

The price of order has long been measured in youths' lives. The expense of the collisions of will, ignorance, hate, and ambition is borne partly by youths of strange lands, partly by their families, and partly by those who live in armed destruction's path.

Youth pays for the world's experimentation with force.

Among the survivors, memories of battle can be harder to overcome than physical wounds.

Since World War I, some 427,000 Americans have lost their lives in battle, and 1,340,000 more were wounded or perished from other causes. Of the survivors, or those who did not have to face war, there are today nearly 28 million American veterans in the ranks of civilian life.

This weekend the United States observes Memorial Day, several days before the officially designated date, May 30.

The fields of crosses, whether at Normandy or Arlington or elsewhere, are both military and gentle in their order -- unlike the more casually composed civilian cemeteries.

There should be a moment now for silence. For those who fought other people's wars, an older generation's, and who, compared with their investment, little quarreled with what they were asked to do.

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