What to Remember This Memorial Day

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“Thank you for your service.”

My husband expresses this anytime he sees a person in uniform or wearing shirts and hats with military insignia. He’s coached our children to the do the same, hoping to instill a humble gratitude toward those who serve.

Showing this simple honor to military personnel is part of our family culture for many reasons. A main reason is that my father came home twice from year-long tours of combat, and these words were not spoken to him. My husband wants our kids to say what he and they were not able to say to the father-in-law and grandpa they never met.

My Favorite Soldier Is My Hero and My Dad

During the incredibly unpopular Vietnam War, my dad intentionally chose to be part of his college ROTC as his path to a dream of an Army career.

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While people gathered in protest, full of fervor for their disdain over the politics behind this war, my dad quietly withstood the firestorm and stayed the course. People marched in the streets, and my dad marched through the perils with his men to fight against communism. Though I wasn’t born yet, I’ve heard stories of how returning soldiers were spit upon, called horrible names, and despised. The public saw not the person and his character or sacrifice, but only the politics happening far above his pay grade.

My dad left behind his young wife and infant. He was wounded in combat, and after recovering, he went right back to it. Forests disappeared after they, and the soldiers, were soaked in the chemical Agent Orange that was poured from planes. Eventually, this exposure took my dad’s life through Agent Orange-related cancer 21 years after he left Vietnam for good.

The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who died in military service. As my family remembers my dad on Memorial Day 2021, I want his life to instruct the next generation.

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Remember the “Others” Who’ve Died

As we honor those who died in combat this Memorial Day, let us not forget the “others” whose lives have been lost in connection with their military career. Let’s remember the men and women who died after combat, from exposure to chemicals, from the effects and circumstances connected to PTSD, in training exercises, and from other service-related incidents. In this #metoo era, remember military personnel like Vanessa Guillen, who was reportedly killed by a fellow solider as she planned to report the sexual harassment she endured. 

Let’s not repeat the treatment of military personnel from my dad’s generation when soldiers came home but were not regarded as the brave. As we pause to remember all the soldiers who’ve lost their lives in combat, let’s expand our remembrance to all military personnel who’ve fought and lost other battles. Memorial Day is the time to pause as a nation to honor the men and women who have served honorably and let’s thank them for their service with the simple act of remembering them.

Keep Politics Aside

In these contentious times of political division, let us not revert to shaming military personnel, even when their orders direct them to tasks that go against your personal politics. May those who risk their very lives to protect and defend our country and your personal freedoms be shown honor and respect.

Let’s instill in our children the ability to separate politics from how we treat the men and women who serve. American soldiers didn’t ask who you voted for before they decided if you were worth dying for. They chose a dangerous career so that every American can vote for whomever they choose. They keep politics aside with the risks they take; this decision alone is worthy of the utmost respect and honor we can offer. Memorial Day should be a bipartisan holiday when we are intentional in remembering every person who lost his or her life to protect ours.

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