Every year Americans come together for the holiday that usually serves as the launch of summer by hitting the lake, slamming some Shiner and grilling some brisket. I think this is fantastic. I think it’s awesome. With that being said, please do not tell me “Happy Memorial Day.”
Before this holiday gets drug down under the partisan politics that I am sure will start any hour now in preparation for the weekend, let’s take a moment and ensure that we don’t confuse the sacrifice of the military with the motives of politicians.
This is one of those holidays that I am glad we have, but I wish we didn’t need. If we didn’t need Memorial Day that would mean that none of my brothers and sisters in uniform would have made the ultimate sacrifice of their life on behalf of the rest of us.
Anyone that has served in the military within the past decade either lost a close friend, or a Soldier (in my case, multiple) from combat or suicide. While I truly cherish that my former Soldiers are given a holiday that this entire country gets to celebrate, myself and other Veterans think of the sacrifice that our brothers and sisters made, daily.
Memorial Day, for all Veterans, is about honoring those that came before us. I stand here today because I stood upon the shoulders of the giants that came before me who wore the same uniform. And while we as a country do a fantastic job of going to war, we don’t do the best job when it comes to taking care of those who incurred injuries on behalf of our nation. Further, roughly 22 Veterans commit suicide a day, or one every approximately 65 minutes.
Memorial Day is not Veterans’ Day or Armed Forces’ Day. While those holidays celebrate those who served with distinction, Memorial Day is for those who served with even greater distinction, those who came home in a flag-draped casket or those who lost the mental battle that sometimes even the strongest can’t wage. Memorial Day is for those who put service before self and for those who gave literally everything they had to this country.
Each year I reflect on Memorial Day and feel a tremendous weight, a weight heavier than normal, as I ask myself each year “Why them and not me? What made me so special that I was the one who was able to walk away and my four Soldiers didn’t get to?”
I don’t say this so you might feel sorry for me. Not at all. I think this each year because they were better men than me. One had a girlfriend who was five months pregnant, another was a father of four. I won’t even pretend to try and understand why I walked away and others didn’t. All I know how to do is to live my life the best way I know how. A way that might make those who didn’t get to come home proud of what I am doing because of the sacrifices they’ve made. The faces of those who were lost are so deeply ingrained in my mind that I see them everywhere and in everything I do.
If you can’t visit a war monument, place a wreath or flowers on a grave in the local cemetery, attend a parade or just plain can’t get off work, I ask that come next Monday at 3 p.m. (local) you take a moment to just pause and reflect on the sacrifice others have made for us.
When you think back over the course of American history, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Paris Peace Conference and the United States Constitution have all survived threats to their very existence because America’s finest men and women picked up a rifle and ran towards the gunfire, not away from it. Anyone who has joined the military in the past 16 years has done so knowing that they will be going to war. They knew what they were signing up for and they went, anyways. They embodied the mindset of “If not me, then who?”
All Gave Some, Some Gave All..