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This year, Memorial Day comes with many caveats and asterisks. Much of the country will welcome the unofficial start of summer with stay-at-home orders still in place, necessitating the cancellation or reduction of community observances and gatherings.
While this Memorial Day will differ from Memorial Days of years past, I’m confident that the essence of the day—gratitude—will remain front and center for Americans across the country.
Current and former service members will likely tell you Memorial Day takes on a somewhat more personal aspect for them. While the United States has been blessed with security and prosperity, many of us know someone who gave everything to ensure that the United States remains the best place to live in the world.
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Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Americans’ quality of life and access to world-class health care sets us apart. That’s due, in no small part, to the commitment and sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives believing in the American Dream and the promise of the American Experiment.
Every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine has a unique perspective or experience when the oath we all swear—to support and defend the Constitution—becomes tangible. It’s the point when we realize just how much we believe in the great nation because we’re willing to endure pain and loss to protect it.
While I served in the Army, I had the privilege of serving in the Old Guard in Washington, D.C. It is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army and it is responsible for escorting the president and conducting official ceremonies in the nation’s capital.
My first assignment with the unit was with the casket platoon. Our job was to convey fallen soldiers to their final resting place.
I led these processions and at the end of the ceremony, would present a folded flag to the families of the deceased.
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During this period of my service in the Army, every day was Memorial Day of sorts. During that time of relative peace, most were WWII survivors, but we had all generations.
I remember a young widow with a young daughter being particularly emotional at the burial. It was a solemn duty and unforgettable reminder that our country’s precious freedoms depend on men and women who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Over the years I spent in the Army, I met outstanding men and women who dedicated themselves admirably to serving this country.
Some of them went to Afghanistan and Iraq, never to return.
I think about them often.
Although we came from different places and different walks of life, through training and serving together, we became like family—friends for life and, Lord willing, into eternity.
So on this Memorial Day weekend, regardless of cancellations or gathering restrictions, I’m remembering the sacrifice so many have made and that so many are still willing to make to keep America free and secure.
Our military is made up of strong, talented individuals who unite under a single banner and selflessly serve, voluntarily.
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They all deserve our appreciation always, but especially after giving their lives on Memorial Day.
Some of our traditional festivities may not be possible this year, but I encourage you to find another way to remember and give thanks for our nation’s heroes.