This Memorial Day, like all of them before, is dedicated to remembering and honoring those military men and women who gave their lives, dying in defense of our country — what it stands for across the globe — and the rights and privileges this nation enjoys.
John 15:13 beautifully sums up why it is important to honor our military dead: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
But another point to consider while remembering the sacrifices of our military dead — and their families — this Memorial Day is that we have 1.28 million active military and about 801,000 reservists. All of these men and women are dedicated in their service to this country. And though troops don’t spend a great deal of time dwelling on death, each one of them stands ready to pay the ultimate price for our way of life.
So, let’s honor those wearing the uniform as well as those who died in service.
A good example comes from a letter I received from a visitor, Steve Szymczak from Spring, Texas, who came to Goldsboro to visit his daughter, USAF Master Sgt. Annette Johnson, and her family.
“My wife, Tricia, and I are in Goldsboro to visit our daughter, son-in-law and three grandkids. The parents are active duty USAF stationed at Seymour Johnson. As I walked up to pay the lunch fare at Dee’s Diner, a man approached me and asked, ‘Which check is for her?’ with a head nod in the direction of our uniformed daughter. I showed him the check, and he asked if he could have it as he simultaneously removed it from my grasp. He wanted to buy lunch for her. As we were leaving, I led our master sergeant to his table to introduce her to this kind stranger. I started to tear up, so I turned and departed. I want all who read this to know how thankful we are for this wonderful display of ‘just being a good and decent American.’ Thank you, sir, whoever you are. May God bless you.”
Honoring military men and women can be as elaborate as picking up a lunch tab or as simple as thanking them. Some people have become weary of the simple “Thank you, for your service,” because it seems overused. But not me. I still get a bit “verklempt,” but happily, when I hear someone thanking another in uniform. Every soldier, sailor, Marine or airman I encounter gets a quick and meaningful thank you from me.
My thanks could stem from my family’s service, or me just being a true red, white and blue American. My son is the most recent member to have served. In the U.S. Army as a cavalry scout, he did three tours in the Middle East — Iraq and Afghanistan — was injured twice and received a Bronze Star for valor. I was a rather simple Navy squid in the 1980s. My father was a sailor and his brother an Army paratrooper in the ‘50s. My grandfather served in the Navy, as well, in the 1930s. I know we have military in our family going back another 100 years or more from there. But memories of who they were, where and how they served, fade more and more as time passes. That’s why remembering and honoring is so important.
Despite that history of service, my family is no different than the millions of others over time whose sons and daughters volunteered or were conscripted to serve or had parents, spouses, children and siblings supporting their decisions.
I said earlier that nearly 1.3 million men and women serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. But we also have about 1.8 million family members who can display a “Gold Star” in tribute to their fallen trooper. A Gold Star Family is the immediate family of a service member who died during a time of conflict. It was created as an official organization in 2005 to honor the U.S. military in the Iraq war. But the symbology dates back to World War I. Of those 1.8 million family members, just over a million are children and nearly 700,000 are spouses. All of them, in their own ways, will honor the fallen — and those still standing in uniform — on this Memorial Day. Will you? I pray your answer is yes.