Rolling Thunder: Remembrance isn’t relative, it’s absolute

by Marilyn Stemp

REEFRolling Thunder XXVII this year, like every year, resulted in stirring images, emotions, and realizations, just as you’d expect from an event of this import and magnitude. But for me it was how the weekend ended that properly framed the experience and connected Rolling Thunder’s mission to something larger—much larger—than any single event or any single conflict. Here’s how.

Heading south from Washington D.C. on I-95, I saw a sign for the National Museum of the Marine Corps and recalled a conversation with Carlos Roman at the Indian Larry block party last year. Carlos told me not to miss this museum next time I was close by and I promised I wouldn’t. So I followed the exit sign and minutes later was walking up the museum’s broad impressive entrance plaza.

It was early in the day and there were few people about, making me feel like I almost had the place to myself. The main space is a bright, prism-like centerpiece designed to be reminiscent of the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima in WWII, as I later read. It felt impressive; I felt small.

I walked the circle, reading the quotes from military men and presidents that were carved around the top of the rotunda’s promontory, then climbed the steps to the second deck to take it all in. But once I passed through a doorway marked “galleries,” the atmosphere changed dramatically.

Most immediately, it was darker. I must have looked disoriented because a volunteer docent asked if he could help me and explained how the exhibits ran chronologically, with sections for each major U.S. conflict. I started along, pausing here and there to read a panel or view artifacts but what stopped me in my tracks was a mural showing Abraham Lincoln giving his brief but memorable address at Gettysburg.

There were Marines at Gettysburg? I was taken aback by this fact and sat down on a bench to listen to the recording of Lincoln’s speech that was playing on a loop. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” If you went to middle school you know how it goes.

But hearing it this time, suddenly the words held new meaning. This time they made sense. This time, on the backdrop of Rolling Thunder, they connected in a way they never had before.

In November of 1863 not Lincoln, not the Marines, not any person present in Gettysburg then or since would have guessed how his brief speech that day would resonate through the decades, incorporating due recognition to all soldiers who step into the line of fire to protect American freedoms. But even more vital was the task Lincoln assigned to the rest of us, a job we are still duty bound to perform.

As applicable today as they were then, Lincoln’s words honor “the last full measure of devotion” that United States service people have pledged and delivered, as bravely in these times at Fallujah or Helmand as at Guadalcanal or Chosin Reservoir. Lincoln’s words frankly and simply recognize the sacrifice made in warfare by those who wage war, and admit that the rest of us can’t know that sacrifice, we can only be grateful. Then he goes further, placing a responsibility upon those who benefit from the actions of “those brave men…who struggled.” We, he said, must be dedicated to the unfinished work, we must take increased devotion to the cause, we must never forget.

Never forgetting means telling the story; then telling it again and again. It means being humbled by the courage of others and giving credit where it’s due. It means welcoming service men and women from all conflicts into organizations like Rolling Thunder. It means paying respect to those who serve. It means invoking the spirit of those lost in battle and pledging that their loss will not be in vain. It means saying thank you.

I’ve attended Rolling Thunder sporadically through the years, and I confess I got a late start. But I won’t miss it again. As Abraham Lincoln said, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” As the Marines say, Semper Fidelis.
Editor’s Note: Watch for additional articles to follow about Rolling Thunder XXVII here at Iron Trader News.