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For safety reasons, they were battery-powered candles, placed into clear plastic cups.
Physically, it was not the same as, say, a live candle in a crafted tin holder in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But the gesture of listening to the name, then placing the candle in the cup, was as sacred as any prayer delivered in church.
I’m talking about the candlelight memorial service at Veterans Memorial Park on Memorial Day.
The volunteers lined up to get their candles as the sun dropped over the park, and a bagpipe player in the distance struck a melancholy tone.
With the candles, volunteers also received a card with the name of the person who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in combat. The service was a tribute to the 204 residents of Doña Ana County who had fallen in military action since World War I.
I was given a pair of candles and the accompanying names.
Fred Montes and Felix Montoya, each U.S. Army soldiers who gave their all in World War II.
It’s difficult for us today to get the sense of what a national effort World War II became. Almost everyone, whether military or civilian, played a role.
As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I pondered the names, which I had not seen until that evening. More than likely, Fred Montes and Felix Montoya were young men. They may or may not have been married. They may or may not have had children.
If they were young, anywhere from 18 to 25, it was likely their mother and father were still alive when the soldiers lost their lives.
These thoughts and more swirled in my head as we waited, and especially as the names began to be called.
I imagined – tried to imagine – the Montes and Montoya households when the news first arrived from Europe, or the Pacific, or wherever.
We’ve all seen the scenes in movies, where two soldiers wearing their dress uniforms arrive at a front door to deliver the worst news possible.
Were Fred Montes and Felix Montoya elder children, with smaller siblings still at home? If so, I imagine the mother clutching a smaller child tightly as she cried her pain.
Or maybe Fred or Felix was a baby of the family. Maybe they had other brothers fighting the war.
As much as we can try to somehow imagine these things, as many times we see them in the movies, or read about them in books, nothing can compare to the reality of actually losing a loved one.
Losing a loved one at any age, for any reason, is unbearable.
For those lost in war, there is an additional element.
In some ways they belong to all of us.