Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute: Saving Private Ryan

For those of you who have not seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, it is one of the most gruesome, vivid war movies of all time. I cannot do it justice in words, it is a must see. In fact, if you plan on seeing it, feel free to skip this post so as not to give it away. But a basic summary of the plot would make the below video more meaningful.

The setting is World War II, and the Ryan family has four brothers who are soldiers in war. Three of them die within days of each other. In an attempt to prevent Mrs. Ryan (whose husband is also deceased) from losing all of her children in the conflict, the Secretary of War orders Captain Miller and his team to locate the remaining brother, Private James Ryan, and send him home. What follows is an intense, violent, trying, heart-wrenching trek through enemy territory which claims the lives of several of Miller's men. Scene after scene after scene features intense fighting, emotional breakdowns, and fierce arguments as the men begin to question the validity of a mission which claims many lives to save just one. Eventually, they find Ryan and order him to return with them to base, but he refuses. He has been stationed a post and ordered to hold the bridge at all costs, and cannot in good conscience abandon his fellow soldiers to save his own hide. This video depicts the end of that battle to hold the bridge.

Earn it. So many men went through such trial and hardship, suffering and pain, gave their lives, made the ultimate sacrifice to save the life of this one man. An with his dying breath, Captain Miller implores Private Ryan to earn that sacrifice. The final scene is an elderly James Ryan sobbing at the grave of Captain Miller, his family around him, questioning whether or not he has done enough to pay them back, begging his wife to tell him he is a good man. How can he ever, possibly, repay that debt?

But this movie is not about that one man. It is about us. We are Private Ryan. In real life, there was no Private Ryan (although there were 4 Niland brothers, two of which died on D-Day and third was believed dead but later liberated from a POW camp). In real life, soldiers did not storm those beaches, raid those bunkers, go through all the hell they did for one man: they did it for each of us. They did it not so they could improve their lives, but so their children and grandchildren could live in a safer, freer world. We are Private Ryan, and with their dying breath those soldiers plead us to earn that sacrifice.

So...have you earned it? Will you earn it? Can we earn it? We can never "level the score", or fully pay back our debt to these men. But we can lead happy, fulfilling lives, and use the freedom these men have granted us to make the world a better place. We can pay it forward by sacrificing for others with the same selflessness with which they sacrificed for us. We can teach our children to earn it too. And finally, if nothing else, we can take some time out of our otherwise self-absorbed lives to remember those who served and acknowledge what they did for us. Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

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