It is true – memorials are for the living. An attempt to remember with occasional side trips into glory or honor. Not counting in these particular numbers, those that provide a stark memory to how things go wrong.
When I was stationed in the UK, it seemed that there was one thing consistent in every small town and village. A memorial from WWI stood in the center square or entrance to the town, that, though it might have had a patriotic saying or three, always had the names of those local who had left for the war and never returned.
For remember, in former times, soldiers were buried where they were killed. No one had the ability, resources, or thought to bring home the bodies of those who had failed. It is in this vein that we [the US] still have cemeteries in Europe. It is for the same reason that there are Commonwealth cemeteries outside the UK where you can read the names not only of the fallen, but of the countries from whence they came.
When we make a huge fuss and production, it is more to show the importance of those in the ceremony than it is for those who have actually lost someone. Nothing is going to bring back my colleagues from 11 Sept. Nor my National Guard soldiers killed when when their ambulance was hit in Baghdad in 2003. Nor the countless sons, daughters, wives, husbands, parents who have lost their lives in service to their country, just in my lifetime alone.
But if you want a memorial that stands cleanly and starkly for the toll that was takes – The Wall is it. Stark, listing name after name after name without decoration; the dead from a war that never made sense. Speeches are not needed. Flowers are for the living.
Names can be remembered.