As we go, this we know, God is nigh...
“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” –John Stuart Mill
To the congregation’s strains of “America the Beautiful,” the casket of Marine Cpl. Stephen R. Bixler was carried last week from his family church in Suffield, Connecticut, en route to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.
Steve Bixler was an all-American kid. He was a model son to parents Richard and Linda. He was an Eagle Scout. He was a good athlete. After graduating high school, he became one of the few, the proud.
Bixler was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. When his battalion called for volunteers to man a Provisional Rifle Platoon, Stephen stepped forward. His platoon commander, 1st Lt. Nicholas Lodestro, says Stephen was “loyal, knowledgeable and dedicated. He was a warrior I felt comfortable to serve with. He was the man in front protecting us. He was a dedicated, unselfish, charismatic warrior.”
Cpl. Bixler, age 20, was killed on 4 May while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar province, Iraq. His battalion commander, Lt. Col. James Bright, said of this young Marine, “He died fearlessly leading and willingly sacrificing his own safety for those around him.”
This week, in advance of Memorial Day, we recognize Cpl. Bixler, not because he is more noteworthy than the more than eight-hundred-thousand American Patriots who have, since our nation’s inception, made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberty, but because he is, in many ways, representative of all those who have fallen before him.
The closing words of Stephen’s pastor, Rev. Michael Dolan, at gravesite should be heralded from shore to shore: “Do not squander the time given to you by God or the freedom preserved by this Marine’s life.”
Ponder these words if you will – “Do not squander the time given to you by God or the freedom preserved by this Marine’s life.”
Ask yourself, then: Do our politicians and judges – those who so often treat our nation’s Constitution with utter contempt – really understand Reverend Dolan’s words? (That would be the same Constitution that Cpl. Bixler swore to “Support and Defend.”) Do all the rancorous political debates in Washington, all the derogatory headlines, disparaging reports and mindless 24-hour news-cycle interviews comport with the Reverend’s simple mandate? Is the spirit of his words written on the heart of millions of those who call themselves “American” but will forget to honor Stephen Bixler and his fallen compatriots Monday, opting instead to flood shopping malls in search of Memorial Day bargains?
Indeed, Memorial Day has been sold out, and it is no wonder that too many among us have no understanding of the price others have paid for their liberty. Most government schools no longer teach civics or any meaningful history and the courts have excluded God (officially) from the public square.
Regardless, there are still countless American Patriots who will take time to honor all those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen – those who have refreshed the tree of liberty with their blood, indeed with their lives, so that we might remain the proud and free.
Who were these brave souls?
On 12 May 1962, Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, offering this description: “Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures – not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.”
Gen. MacArthur continued: “In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs in memory’s eye, I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.”
As is tradition, at Marine Cpl. Stephen Bixler’s interment at Arlington, a Final Roll was called. Three times his name was called out. Three times it was met with silence. His final farewell was the trumpeting of “Taps,” the traditional words of which follow:
“Day is done, gone the sun, From the hills, from the lake, From the skies. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh; Go to sleep, peaceful sleep, May the soldier or sailor, God keep. On the land or the deep, Safe in sleep; Love, good night, Must thou go, When the day, And the night Need thee so? All is well. Speedeth all To their rest; Fades the light; And afar Goeth day, And the stars Shineth bright, Fare thee well; Day has gone, Night is on; Thanks and praise, For our days, ‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars, 'Neath the sky, As we go, This we know, God is nigh.”
Semper Fi, Stephen. In the words of your Savior, “There is no greater love than this – than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We are eternally grateful for your sacrifice, and that of all American Patriots who have died in the line of duty.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: One way you can help to prepare for Memorial Day is by placing flags at headstones in your local military cemetery (generally the Saturday prior to Memorial Day). Take a moment and read about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In honor of American Patriots who have died in defense of our great nation, lower your flag to half-staff from sunrise to 1200 on Monday, and join us by observing a time of silence at 1500 [your local time], for remembrance and prayer. Offer a personal word of gratitude and comfort to any surviving family members you know who are grieving for a beloved warrior fallen in battle. On this and every day, please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces now standing in harm’s way around the world in defense of our liberty, and for the families awaiting their safe return.