By Mike Berry, Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs at First Liberty
It is said that the passage of time can heal all wounds — but when wounds heal, we still want to remember the important battles in which they were inflicted. So we build memorials and create ceremonies and traditions. We set aside special days to remember our hard-fought freedoms.
September 26 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the single deadliest battle in American history, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, which took place during World War I. It would run until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, that ended the war. More than 126,000 Americans lay dead or wounded — including approximately half of all American combat fatalities during the Great War — from this one battle alone.
Before that is September 11, 2001, a date no one from this generation will soon forget and one that changed my life. The tragic events of that day, and the wounds it left, are what drove me to become a U.S. Marine. Unsurprisingly, the Marine Corps taught me the value of remembering. Now, as a civil rights attorney, I have the privilege of helping others remember the fallen as well.
One of the Marine Corps’ grand traditions is the Mess Night. It is an event steeped in history, with plenty of pomp and circumstance, and even a bit of revelry. The Mess Night protocol is actually spelled out in detail in the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual.
According to the Manual, and tradition, the Marines present are to “pay homage to the valor shown and sacrifices made by Marines who have distinguished themselves throughout history.” A ship’s bell is then rung one time each for a number of storied Marine Corps campaigns. As each campaign name is read aloud — typically beginning with the Battle of Bladensburg, a critical battle during the War of 1812 — those present raise a toast of honor.
The point of all this ceremony is to remember those battles, to never forget their importance in the cause of freedom, and to honor the memory of the Marines who fought and sacrificed in them. After all, we too often forget what we do not see.