A Veteran’s Reflection on Memorial Day

By Duke Birch, Director of Veterans Programs / SDM

In the midst of BBQ’s, get-togethers, sales, and celebrations it’s often common to forget the origins of Memorial Day. Observed on the last Monday of May and originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season, which can mean summer vacations can sometimes overshadow the significance of our long weekend.

So before you pack the car with towels and beach chairs, or purchase far too many hot dogs and burgers for reasonable consumption, please pause to remember those who sacrificed all, who made conscious decisions to give their life for their brothers and sisters in arms and for their country, fully knowing that doing so they would never see their wife, husband, son, or daughter again. In all of the commercialization this is the forgotten aspect.

Sacred to so many who have lost their friends in combat, or who have lost that father, mother, brother or sister, is that they did so in this country for the most part as volunteers. So many made a conscious decision to go back for their brothers in arms, to keep engaging the enemy, to “Run to the sound of the guns”, to “Never leave a man behind” knowing that the decision they were making could very well be their last, but paying that price with honor, duty, loyalty and dedication simply because that is what a Soldier/Marine/Airman/Sailor does. Sometimes, because they had a little more intestinal fortitude in them than the rest of us. Those values are ingrained in them and they will meet up with their fellow heroes in Valhalla, Fiddlers Green, Heaven or wherever the best of each generation meet to have a drink and be honored by those of us who did not pay the ultimate price.

So I ask that we all enjoy Memorial Day, see family and friends in whatever way possible, look around at the things we take for granted every day, full grocery stores, the right to speak our mind and act with conscience, the ability to travel where we want, and so many other freedoms we are blessed with, and, wherever you celebrate Memorial Day, raise a glass of beer, wine, or even iced tea to those who made it possible. Say “Thank you for your sacrifice” if you know someone who has lost that special person in service to our country, but please remember this day is about those no longer with us, real people who could be sitting at those same celebrations if not for their unusual bravery.

If you would like to honor our fallen warriors and observe Memorial Day, there are BBQ’s that families and old friends have and many national, state, and local events along with many organizations that sponsor events and support family and friend survivors.

Check with your local community. Many municipalities and organizations sponsor or hold events Memorial Day weekend. I live in Central Texas and every year participate in the “Field of Flags” event. I encourage everyone to find an event they can connect with the military community through and participate in supporting families remembering their lost.

There are many organizations that help with grievance assistance, like Gold Star Wives, Got Your Back Network, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Your personal and financial support of their mission directly gives back to those families who need it most.

Finally, I encourage every Veteran to take the time to reach out to those old friends from your units. Pick up that phone, call your battle buddy you haven’t talked to in a long time, call the spouse of a fallen friend and remind them that they and their husband/wife/loved one are not forgotten.

The most important thing for any Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine is to know that their loved ones will be taken care of. I was assigned as a casualty assistance officer as an additional duty, and the loss of a loved one to combat or training is more than most can imagine. The DOD and VA will ensure their benefits are delivered promptly, but that vacuum and loss nothing can fill. Support from friends and organizations is crucial. The person left behind now has a finite amount of assets and time to take care of everything. They are quite often left as a single parent of several children. Not only having to cope with the loss, but also guiding their children through it as well. The voice of a friend who knew their beloved spouse, son, daughter, or friend cannot be replaced – share your stories with them. They want to be remembered, every day, and especially Memorial Day.