"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Memorial Day has changed for me since my nephew Gunnery Sgt Ryan Jeschke, USMC, was killed in Afghanistan in August 2012. In the past, I honored the memory of my husband’s Marine Corps family members who had faithfully served our country, but who died in their beds after living a full life. Now Memorial Day is not only a day of remembrance; it is a day of mourning.
While most Americans play and picnic and mark the beginning of summer fun, I know Ryan’s young wife, mom and dad, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends are marking another reminder of his ultimate sacrifice to enable all of us to enjoy the freedom to play and picnic.
In another conflict, one hundred and fifty years ago, Unions and Confederate troops clashed on the rolling fields of the Shenandoah Valley near New Market, Virginia. Among them were teenaged cadets sent up as reserves from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), ten of whom lost their young lives. Although the South’s struggle to uphold slavery was morally indefensible and rightly defeated, these boys were fighting to protect their homeland, families, and friends. They were all, on both sides, mothers’ sons.
With the 150th anniversary of many Civil War battles, my husband and I have been visiting battlefields: Gettysburg as well as Manassas/Bull Run and Bristow Station, which are near where we live. A month ago we decided to walk the New Market battlefield with our son, who was graduating from nearby Eastern Mennonite University. We had heard the tragic story of the fallen cadets back in the fall when we had toured VMI, my father-in-law’s alma mater. We walked through the meadow, named the “Field of Lost Shoes” because torrential rains had turned the field into a muddy bog, which pulled off the boys’ boots and shoes as they charged barefoot up the long hill. Walking a battlefield is a moving and sobering experience. One can easily imagine the flying bullets and the falling men—all mothers’ sons.
In one of those amazing providences, on our return from this excursion, we received an invitation to the premiere of a new feature film, Field of Lost Shoes, which opened the 8th annual GI Film Festival held in conjunction with Memorial Day observances here in the nation’s capital. A dear friend from college and one of my husband’s groomsmen, David M. Kennedy, wrote and produced the film. Dave is an Irish-Catholic genius, who was the President of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, a Commander in the Navy, a top-gun pilot, and the military consultant for films like Pearl Harbor and Behind Enemy Lines. We had last seen Dave at Arlington National Cemetery for the burial of his brother alongside his oldest brother, a hero killed in action in Vietnam. While there, Dave took the time to visit Ryan’s grave with us, where he and his son Sam, a ROTC student at UVA, gave Ryan an honor salute. Needless to say, we were very touched by their tribute.
For many years, Dave had dreamed of making a feature film about the VMI cadets who fought and died at New Market. What a thrill to be invited as his “honored guests” to the premiere of this dream fulfilled. We hope Field of Lost Shoes will get the attention and distribution it deserves. I’m pleased to say that the film is excellent and a moving tribute to these mothers’ sons.
This weekend I trust we will all take the time to pause and remember the many men and women (sons and daughters all) in countless conflicts, who have laid down their lives to protect our homeland and our freedom. And while we remember and honor the fallen, please pray for their families who are also remembering---and mourning.