In July, 1918, the world was at war and a young American lieutenant piloted his Nieuport 28 biplane in defense of the skies of France. Along with three other pilots of the 95th Aero Squadron, they spotted and engaged seven approaching German Fokker aircraft.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the American aviators managed to shoot down one of their opponents before they lost sight of one another and were forced to return to base.
The young lieutenant, however, was not to be one of them; after a fierce aerial firefight his bullet-riddled aircraft was last seen plummeting to the ground behind enemy lines.
German soldiers located the wreck and identified the dead pilot by his papers. He was none other than Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of former President Theodore Roosevelt. Young Roosevelt was 20 years old, with a pretty fiancée and a deferred admission to Harvard waiting back home.
His promising future had been cut short that day by two machine-gun bullets through the head. The German soldiers buried their respected adversary with full military honors, using the propeller blades from his biplane to fashion a makeshift cross.
Quentin’s story is one of the many whose heroic lives we recall on Memorial Day. But as long as this honorable list may be, it is short compared to the countless numbers of heroes lost in the fog of battle and the mists of time. Those without famous names or lacking witnesses to record their deeds.
Many of them lie in the manicured graves at Arlington, others in unmarked plots in faraway places, and still others lie at the bottom of the sea, entombed for all time in the twisted hulks of their doomed vessels. Some died quickly, felled by a well-placed shot or a split-second explosion. Others lingered in agony, lying gassed in the trenches, or mortally wounded in a field hospital.
But that’s not enough. We should also consider what we might do with the remainder of our lives—lives spared the killing blow of the mortar round, the cold steel of the bayonet, or a sudden death in the skies above a foreign land.
We must live not only for ourselves, but for them.
So what will you do?