Today is Memorial Day. For many Americans, it’s simply a long weekend, a vacation time. Greetings of “Happy Memorial Day” can be heard at backyard barbecues and on the beach. This is all good, as we should celebrate the freedom to pursue happiness in our lives and thank those who serve our great United States.
But what is the true meaning of Memorial Day? Just 75 years ago, the Normandy landings during World War II served as the catalyst to defeat Nazi Germany. World War II was the most widespread war in history with more than 100 million people serving in military units, including 16 million Americans.
The Greatest Generation left behind a legacy of selfless service. As we continue to fight in the Global War on Terror, we see that Americans are not done giving the ultimate sacrifice for the good of others, and as long as we have a republic to defend, America will continue to give its sons and daughters in its defense.
In 2003, I had the honor of serving with three of these great men in Baghdad. Sergeant First Class Marshall, Staff Sergeant Stever and NBC reporter David Bloom, died on April 7, 2003. This was the first time I saw fellow service members die in combat, and that first Memorial Day after redeploying was when I really understood what Memorial Day was about – it’s not about those of us who made it back, but about those we lost, and the families they left behind.
About 7% of the US population are veterans. Less than 1% of the population currently serves. Although recognizing our living veterans is honorable at all times, this day is about honoring our brothers- and sisters-in-arms, who made the ultimate sacrifice.
So, is it really appropriate to say, “Happy Memorial Day?”
I offer that we ought to be reminding each other to have a “Worthy Memorial Day.” The veterans with whom I served and the ones I work with at the Goodwill of Orange County Tierney Center for Veteran Services, remind me daily that we have to “earn this.” That the freedom our brothers- and sisters-in-arms died defending can’t be taken for granted. Goodwill employs veterans and helps re-integrate them into civilian life. In return, the people who work alongside these extraordinary men and women are introduced to a level of compassion, determination and courage they would not otherwise encounter. I challenge each of us this Memorial Day, to not only thank the veterans in our community, but ask them about their battle buddies who didn’t make it back.
Talk to and thank a Gold Star family member and ask them about the warrior who sacrificed for us all. We honor their sacrifices by talking about their deeds, their relationships and their lives. So, remember them on this day of remembrance. Ask about them. Listen to the stories from those they left behind.
And may you have a meaningful and worthy Memorial Day.
Denton Knapp is Brigadier General, California State Military Reserve and Director of Goodwill of Orange County’s Tierney Center for Veteran Services in Tustin, Calif.