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A Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day after the American Civil War, is regarded as the day to honor those lost in war. In 1868, the practice of decorating the graves of those who had died during the war began.
American flag, Memorial Day

Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day after the American Civil War, is regarded as the day to honor those lost in war.

In 1868, the practice of decorating the graves of those who had died during the war began. While flowers became the custom, it was later in 1920, that the poppy was adopted by the National American Legion as their official symbol of remembrance for the fallen.

For many of us though, Memorial Day nowadays marks the beginning of summer. This usually means that the local public pool opens, baseball season is in full swing and everyone starts planning for a 3-day weekend to gather together for a BBQ and libations. Some will perhaps attend a Memorial Day parade, some will go place flowers on the grave of a lost soldier and some will visit with a veteran who was fortunate to come home to their loved ones. This begs the question, is that really where it ends for us, and for them?

Every day, we are bombarded with news items that really seem trivial and need to be put into perspective. We are now faced with the arguments for and against gay marriage, transgender restrooms, all lives matter, whether or not stores should open on Thanksgiving Day, the looming presidential race, and all of the things that are seemingly geared towards dividing all of us by drawing the proverbial lines in the sand just so that we have a side to stand on and for.

Memorial Day. Here’s the side of the line I stand on this special day. Every issue listed above, and even the innumerable ones that each individual has unto their own, is our precious right to have an opinion. The rights that you have to make your stand, to have a voice and to be heard were fought for, and won, by all of those who gave their all, so that we could have it all. In translation, that means a man or woman from every walk of life, every color and virtually every religion gave their all for YOU.

As we sit here and argue over the trivial matters (only called so for the purposes of this article and to highlight something more significant than any of us individually), there is something that sadly many of us are not even aware of. Every day, there is a war that reaches further into the heart and soul of those who have returned home from the heroes of battle. Maybe they have done or seen what they once thought was unimaginable. Maybe they had to leave a friend or brother behind in that foreign land in which they served. Maybe they ultimately lost a piece of their soul as they carry the burden of loss so deeply. The imagery of war indelibly burned into the footprint of their memory banks and a weight upon their hearts like the anchor of a vessel in a harbor unknown. Unfortunately, the ravages of war are not always left on the battlefield.

“The American Military’s Deadliest Battleground Isn’t Some Remote Stretch of Desert Across the Globe. It’s Here at Home.” — taken from the website

An alarming statistic recently came to my attention that had me reflecting on the question: How is this possible? The statistic in reference is outlined in the quotes below:

  • “Every day in the United States, 22 veterans succumb to suicide—losing their personal battle to invisible wounds of war.” —Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), news release, Jan. 13, 2015
  • “When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide, then you have a serious problem.” —Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), news article, Feb. 2, 2015
  • “Every day, approximately 22 American veterans commit suicide, totaling over 8,000 veteran suicides each year—I repeat—8,000 veteran suicides each year.” —Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate hearing, Feb. 3, 2015

The excerpts above are in response to the February 2013 report, prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).  The alarming thing, delving further into the statistical data, is the report reveals this is merely an average or the DVA’s best guess, due to the limited participation by all states.

“While the situation is admittedly quite grim, with record numbers of veterans committing suicide at an ever-increasing rate, the issue is most likely even more ominous than it first appears: while the report released by the DVA is the most extensive study conducted by the U.S. government on the subject of veteran suicide rates to date, the data contained within it is far from complete. The text of the study itself contains the disclaimer that “estimates that the number of suicides among veterans each day has increased, are based on information provided by 21 states and may not be generalizable to the larger veteran population.” While it should be noted that the study takes this issue into account and attempts to fill the deficit of information by using statistics from the states that did participate, the fact remains that the report was only able to examine the data from the states that agreed to make their information available.

The issue with this is that those 21 states only comprise about 40 percent of the population of the United States—and, even more troublesome, the two largest states by population, California and Texas, are not included.

I am the son of a veteran, grandson of a veteran (both familial grandfathers), now related in marriage to veterans and some who are still active duty (both families). While not everyone who is serving our country today is confronted with the rigors of the front lines of battle, their service is not without merit.

Veterans have made a commitment to protect this great nation and “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” that they “will bear true faith and allegiance to the same” and are not just token sentiments of the American Soldier.

I am a member of a local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) charter group, and I have come to learn a lot about the men who have served during the ugliest of times in order to protect the values that we hold dear. As I stood there humbly being sworn in and accepted into the charter, I couldn’t help reflect on the servitude of those who were embracing me as their brother. Standing there at attention in the position of salute, or hand over heart and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, you can’t help but be moved by the conviction in which these men still patriotically and dutifully stand with pride before the colors of the Red, White and Blue. The tautness of youth is gone from their skin, the grey of age streaks through their hair, their eyes may not have the same sparkle as in their younger day, but a spirit is still a fire within them, that is, the American spirit.

The most admirable are the ones who humbly shy away from the honors bestowed them with their sentiments that echo, “I was only doing my job, doing what I was trained to do” or “I only did what one of my brothers would have done for me.” But what are WE willing to do for them? Do WE not owe them something? Twenty-two veterans who risked everything to protect OUR dreams and to propagate the American Dream and defend our way of life, die at their own hands every single day.

If you’ve never thought about it, but we have pricked your conscience and you would like to know what you can do, here is a list of some really simple things that you may not have even considered:

Give a Ride to a Veteran: Yes, you can volunteer at the VA to provide transportation to any of our veterans who may need ongoing treatment from the visible (and invisible) wounds of war. There are several programs that help veterans get into homes, whether built from the ground up or remodeling a returning veterans home. If you have the skill sets…and even if you don’t…volunteers are always welcome. Just the spirit of willingness to help hits their hearts harder than a hammer on a nail.

The Stand Down Program: Veterans who have found life hard to cope with also find themselves on the streets.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has a program called Stand Down. In times of war, exhausted combat units were removed from the battlefield to “stand down” in a place of relative security to rest. The DVA established this program to provide food, shelter, clothing and health screenings for homeless and unemployed veterans. To find a Stand Down program in your community, consult with the local VA Hospital or click here for a directory.

Send a Care Package or a Letter to a Veteran: It need not be lavish. This is truly one of those circumstances where the old adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” really holds true. The Honor Flight Network is a program geared toward our “Greatest Generation” affording them the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Washington, DC to visit the WWII Memorial. (There is rumor this program will expand to allow our Korean and Vietnam War veterans the same opportunity.) This is a program that you can volunteer for and even travel with our veterans.

If none of this appeals to you, or you find that you can’t afford to expend the time, energy or assets it may cost you to volunteer in some capacity, there is one thing that you can do that won’t cost you a red cent but will make our veterans “rich” with pride…say Thank You!

So, as we bask in the opportunity to enjoy an extended three-day weekend to gather with family and friends, please remember that those precious freedoms and liberties that you hold so dear came at a cost. The American Soldier may be home, but all too often the war still wages within. Let us do what we can to show our respect and our appreciation for the sacrifices they’ve made so that we wouldn’t have to make any here at home. This is the Land of The Free, and the Home of The Brave. Please, make them feel like they are HOME.