Every year the summer kicks off with a three-day weekend full of backyard barbeques, graduation parties, parades, and hopefully a whole lot of sunshine. However, with all the festivities going on that make up “Memorial Day weekend”, it is easy to forget what this day is really all about. Now I’m not saying there is something wrong with having some awesome parties (I went to a few myself this weekend), but I am saying that there needs to be a shift in thought process to make Memorial Day THE thought today, and not the afterthought. For those of you who may not be American or just may not have ever really thought too much about it, Memorial Day a day set aside for honoring our nation's veterans who died in combat. On this day we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the many freedoms that we often take for granted.
As a nurse at one of our nation’s Veterans Hospitals, Memorial Day has taken on such a different meaning for me. It has become much more of a reality than the antiquated idea that it seemed when I was a child. While I have family and friends who have served in the military here at home and overseas, I have been fortunate to have each one of them return to me. So growing up, Memorial Day always seemed like a day on which we talked about really old wars and people that were long gone. As I grew up, I came to the haunting realization that not all of us are that fortunate. Mothers have lost children. Children have lost mothers and fathers. Sisters have lost brothers. Husbands have lost wives. And each and every one of my patients have lost friends. They have stories upon stories of the brave men and women who fought beside them, but did not come home beside them. All of the men and women who serve in our armed forces are deserving of our remembrance and respect, but today is a special day we set aside for those who have laid down their lives for their country.
So please take a moment, or two, or twenty today to really reflect on those who gave everything so we could have everything. I don’t mean to just have a moment of silence, say a quick thank you, and then move on with the festivities. Instead, I challenge each of you to really be intentional today. Spend time reflecting on those you may have lost, or those others have lost. Visit a local memorial, or maybe go to a local military cemetery and place flowers at the grave of a soldier/marine/airman/sailor who may not have family or friends remaining to do it for them. Take some time to learn about a new piece of history or to teach your children about it. Today is not about barbeques and fireworks; it is about remembrance, honor, integrity, history, the present, and the future. Today is a day we remember true heroes.
The meaning of a hero has never been so eloquently, yet simply, described to me as it was by one of my patients in a recent letter he wrote to the staff on my unit. The following is an excerpt from his letter:
“I wrote the definition of a hero back in 1970 one week before I left for Vietnam on board a fast attack submarine for special ops & black ops…The definition of a hero is defined from the four words of freedom; as follows:
The word hero defined, now you have it. Follow those four words of freedom, teach them, and appreciate them and again you will not fail”
So, today is a day about heritage. As American’s, we have arguably the greatest heritage and privilege of any country in the world. But without the men and women we honor today, we would have nothing. They fought and died for our heritage, for the right for us to preserve our freedoms, our way of life, and our culture.
Today is a day about excellence. Each fallen member of our military displays the excellence of character that I can only hope to one day achieve. I am in awe of those who are so selfless that they take a bullet for their neighbor, or charge into battle hopelessly outnumbered just to give others a chance to escape. I commend those who saw it as their duty to respond to their country’s need fully aware of the potential consequences they faced. I am inspired by those who were drafted without choice and did not run from the hellish conditions that lay before them. These are the truly excellent.
Today is a day about remembrance. It is a day to keep the fallen alive in our memories and in our hearts. To share their stories and keep their spirit and to ensure that their sacrifice was not in vein. On this day, we remember where our country has come from and use that to guide us toward a better future.
And finally, today is a day about obedience. Let us be disciplined and obedient in our calling to honor our nation’s heroes. It may be easier for me to say that as I spend my day working at a hospital full of patients who have served our country, but we are all called as Americans to remember on this day. Obey that calling. Remember the fallen and remember, “Follow those four words of freedom, teach them, and appreciate them and again you will not fail”.
In honor of our fallen heroes. May they Rest in Peace.
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