One day, not too long ago, I was reading about J. R. R. Tolkein, who survived the trenches of World War I and drew on their horrors when describing the Dead Marshes. I thought of how the world would be different if a bullet had been a few feet from its mark and all he was to create vanished in a spray of blood and bone. I thought of Earnest Hemingway, who narrowly missed death from a mortar shell. I thought of my second cousin, who almost vanished from the world, along with the children he would have, on the beaches of Normandy.
For the United States alone, 1.3 million men and women have had their stories cut short — left their novels unwritten, their children unborn, their monuments unbuilt. A city of people roughly the size of San Antonio have seen all that they were, all that they could have been, taken away in an instant. But it is that loss, that sacrifice that makes all of our stories possible — that allows our children to be born, our novels to be written, our monuments to be built, our potential to be met.
The only way to repay that debt is to live the lives they couldn’t and be worthy of them. And to read the stories of those who’ve gone.