A Day to Remember Our Fallen
On Memorial Day, many Americans have a barbeque, spend the day in a department store looking for sales, or otherwise enjoy a day off work. What often does not happen is a reflection on the true meaning of the holiday.
Memorial Day is intended to be a day of remembrance for those who have died serving this great nation during war. In December 2000, the National Day of Remembrance was founded to help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning and tradition of Memorial Day, by asking that at 3 pm local time, a moment of remembrance and respect be observed with a moment of silence. American Thinker interviewed a few Americans who have contributed to the War on Terror, asking them to reflect on this holiday.
Debbie Lee's son, Marc Alan, was the first SEAL killed in Iraq. She regarded herself as one of those Americans who did not connect Memorial Day with its true meaning until August 2, 2006, when her son was killed. She commented that today, many Americans mark this holiday as a signal for the end of the school year, but her wish is that "everyone understand [that] the families of those killed have given our best and brightest for this nation. This is supposed to be the day we remember our fallen soldiers. For me, every day is a Memorial Day." She suggests that Americans have someone in the family take the time to talk about the true meaning of this holiday.
Marc died after standing up in the direct line of fire to save his buddies -- not during one mission, but three. The first and second times, he escaped injury while heroically drawing direct fire as his buddy, Ryan, was taken off a rooftop, severely injured. Later that same day, he and his team went back out to find thirty insurgents. While going into a house, Marc made a choice to give his life as his teammates found cover. Because of Marc, Debbie established the organization America's Mighty Warriors, which supports military families of fallen soldiers.
Chris Kyle, a retired SEAL, takes his family to a national cemetery, where he reads the headstones and lays down roses. He always chooses someone whom he had a connection with because "I would not have been able to write the book American Sniper and play in the house with my children if not for them. The red in the flag is for their blood. We all should be reminded that freedom is not free and these fallen soldiers have paid the ultimate price."
Kyle thinks about his SEAL teammate Ryan Job, who was shot in the right eye by an Iraqi sniper in 2006. He considers Ryan a true hero who did not want to be taken to safety until the mission was accomplished. However, after losing a great amount of blood, he passed out and had to be carried to safety. Because of all the shrapnel and swelling, his optic nerve was severed, and he became blind in both eyes. He lived for three more years, married his sweetheart, and graduated from college with a 4.0 grade average. After undergoing surgery to repair his eye socket, Ryan died from complications. Although he did not die in combat, as far as Kyle is concerned, Ryan "still died from the injury he received in combat. Ryan is proof that all who sign up to fight for this country do it because we love this country. We will honor it, serve it, and write a blank check for it up to our life to guarantee everyone's freedom back home."
One of Kyle's peers, another former SEAL, Coleman Ruiz, is the director of the organization Carry The Load. The organization's mission is to highlight the meaning of Memorial Day by offering communities an opportunity to come together on this holiday and remember America's heroes. They invited Americans to join them as they conducted a 1,700-mile relay that started at West Point and ended in Dallas on Memorial Day, May 27. There will be a 20-hour, 12-minute walk in Dallas to raise money and to remember not just the fallen, but "those who have been left behind, the surviving families who have sacrificed as well. These families carry a heavy load every single day, a heavy burden which will never be put down."
Vickie Behenna told American Thinker that her son Michael is fighting a court-martial for killing a terrorist who was instrumental in the 2008 murder of two of Michael's platoon buddies, SPC Steven J. Christofferson and Sgt. Adam J. Kohlhass. Michael treated Christofferson like a younger brother and encouraged him to enter the Green to Gold Program. After a massive IED attack, Steven was cut in half, and Adam died from his injuries almost immediately. Vickie now realizes that knowing "someone who served makes you understand the meaning of Memorial Day. Michael has told me he is very afraid that his two buddies will be forgotten. The dead are not just names or numbers without meaning. Lets remember that a soldier who has died was somebody's son, husband, daughter, or wife."
Air Force Colonel Martha McSally, who ran for Congress in Tucson, reflected that "Memorial Day is a very solemn day for me to remember the sacrifices for those who have served and who are no longer with us. Even though I was wearing the uniform, I enjoyed a day off. It was not until I lost some friends that it hit home. I now look on this holiday a little differently and think about those who died who I knew, but also the ones I did not know."
She wants Americans to know about Air Force Captain Amy Svoboda, who died in a plane crash training exercise in 1997, since "most fighter pilots die in training and not in combat. All of the fighter pilots I know have died in training." It was an exercise to test night-vision goggles with inadequate lighting in the cockpit. Shortly after Amy's death, the Air Force grounded all of the night-flying tests until the lighting was changed. Amy made the ultimate sacrifice, and she did not die in vain, because the Air Force changed the instrument lighting situation for night-vision goggle training.
General Peter Chiarelli, who served as the vice chief of the U.S. Army, wants to remind Americans that those defending this country are an all-volunteer force. He wants this day dedicated to "those who have put their lives on the line to protect what we stand for. Having been in combat, I saw American soldiers killed and wounded. I will never forget the very first Memorial Day I spent in Baghdad. We must remember all of those who have done so much to protect the liberty of our country, including those who have lost their lives as they know it, through traumatic brain injury."
Recently retired Major Pete Hegseth has done three tours of duty since 9/11 and was the executive director of Vets for Freedom. He wants Americans to find a way to honor those who have "put their lives and futures on the line. Sometimes there is only one explosion or one bullet that separates Veterans Day from Memorial Day. We must demonstrate the fact that this country appreciates the price that has been paid for us to go to that barbecue or that sale. Instead, people should go to a local ceremony or a veteran gravesite. Too many people are inclined to forget. For me, I will never forget Sgt. Jorge Oliveira, who was killed in Afghanistan this past October while also doing his third tour of duty. He embodies the kind of soldiers America has lost."
One group of men and women who lost their lives while serving this country should also be honored. The intelligence professionals often make their sacrifices in extreme secrecy. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told American Thinker that the CIA has a Memorial Service around Memorial Day. For him, this holiday should honor those "who put themselves in harm's way and lost their lives in service to this nation. As a career military officer, I would like to memorialize not just my fellow military professionals, but the intelligence professionals as well. It is not much to ask the nation to pause one day a year to remember the sacrifices that some of our citizens have made."
Jose Rodriguez, Jr., the former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, who wrote the book Hard Measures with Bill Harlow, agrees. He feels that many intelligence operators "who died for their country, in many cases, are forgotten. For example, Jennifer Matthews, one of the CIA's leading experts on al-Qaeda, died during a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan. She was a remarkable patriot, officer, and a mother of three. There is a charitable organization that provides money to those CIA officers killed in the line of duty so their children can go to college."
On this somber day, Americans should look on those who have sacrificed their lives not as numbers, but as individuals. They should never be forgotten: their names, their ages, how they lost their lives, and the family they left behind. Every person should take the time to remember those who died so that Americans can enjoy the freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.