by Stephen Bryen
In 2012 the Siberian city of Tomsk marked the first time that relatives of Russian soldiers got together to march celebrating the memory of their family members who fought for Russia in World War II. From that beginning four years ago, the Immortal Regiment marches have become a feature of Russian parades and patriotic demonstrations. This week the Immortal Regiment march took on huge proportions in Moscow where tens of thousands of families marched, many garbed in World War II uniforms and most carrying portraits of their loved ones who served.
The Immortal Regiment idea has spread to Russian communities around the world –large and small marches have taken place in 42 different countries including many cities in the United States.
Unfortunately we do not march in memory of the fallen, neither for the Second World War or for every other conflict in which American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard have given their lives. Nor do we remember the Merchant Marines who bravely sailed to bring much needed supplies to Europe, to Russia and to our other allies. 1 in 26 Merchant Marine mariners serving aboard merchant ships in World WW II died in the line of duty, suffering a greater percentage of war-related deaths than all other U.S. services. Overall nearly 10,000 died serving their country.
No longer does America have military parades. They have disappeared, for the most part, or have been confined to special ceremonies on military bases. On the fourth of July, our national holiday, no tanks clank down the thoroughfares; no boots strike the ground in unison. While some military bands play, a good thing, you won’t find a military vehicle passing on parade with the President standing at salute.
It is even worse when it comes to our war dead -those we claim to honor but fall short in showing our affection and respect. Sure we can visit monuments and military cemeteries. The Vietnam Memorial in Washington is one where the names of the fallen are there to be seen and where proud families of the fallen can feel a special kinship. But most of the other monuments, no matter how grandiose, in fact are abstractions. Life is not a hunk of marble.
That is what makes the March of the Immortal Regiment so meaningful. Here the families, the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren turn out showing respect and pride.
There are some things we should learn from Russia, and this is one. When you watch a Russian military parade you will see in an honored place old soldiers, sailors and airmen wearing their medals, sometimes in uniform; most are men but there are also heroic women among them. And just after the soldiers complete their march and the missiles, tanks, airplanes have departed then thousands of families take to the streets with their placards, banners and flags to celebrate the sacrifice their loved ones made during World War II.
Our families deserve a chance to honor their heroes and to do it in the company of other families where such sacrifices have been made.
We have so many to honor in America, but we don’t. It is time to change that.
All photos taken from RT video of the Immortal Regiment.