Dying for a Cause

“Two men lost their lives and another was injured for doing the right thing, standing up for people they didn’t know against hatred. Their actions were brave and selfless, and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.”  Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, OR

I happened to be in Our Nation’s Capital for Memorial Day weekend and so I visited Arlington National Cemetery Friday to visit graves of some of special people.  I officiated at several graveside services at ANC during my years as a pastor in Alexandria, but none of those souls died in combat.  They were mostly WW2 veterans who returned home to the United States in the 1940s to live fruitful lives and raise strong families.  One of the graves I visited belonged to the three year old daughter of a Naval officer who died tragically on Mothers’ Day weekend many years ago.

Memorial Day is when we remember those who have died in service to their country.  I was struck by the grave marker of Army SFC Ernest F. Briggs Jr (Devine, Texas), SFC John T. Gallagher (Hamden, Connecticut), CW3 Dennis C. Hamilton (Barnes City, Iowa), CW3 Sheldon D. Schultz (Altoona, Pennsylvania), SFC James D. Williamson (Tumwater, Washington) who died in when their helicopter was shot down over Laos.  It took 29 years to retrieve their remains.  You can read more about their sacrifice here.

Sometimes people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  With all due respect to veterans, it seems essential to offer a special tribute not only to veterans who died in service to their country, but also to the men and women who died in service to humanity.  I’m thinking today of  Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche who died standing up for 16 year old Destinee Mangum and her 17 year old friend who was wearing a hijab.  Mr. Best and Mr. Meche stood up against a man who was saying that “Muslims should die.”  These men are heroes.

They were not professional soldiers.  They didn’t wake up Friday morning expecting to risk their lives that day.  But they stood up against ugliness and lost their lives trying to do the right and beautiful thing.  Their sacrifice is just as holy as that of a soldier or sailor defending the freedom of this or any country.

My hope is that – instead of hesitating to do the right thing for fear of being in harm’s way ourselves – that we would remember Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche (as well as Micah David-Cole Fletcher who was also injured defending the teenagers but is expected to live.) I also hope that each of us would stand tall and defend the weak.  Dying for a good cause continues to be a holy thing and not just on a battlefield.

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