The summer after my junior year of college, I had an internship in Washington, D.C. I arrived Memorial Day weekend and was fortunate enough to have an older brother with whom I was able to live for the summer while he was between undergraduate school and law school. On Memorial Day, he took me to Arlington Cemetery where hundreds of people who served our country were buried. White headstones as far as the eye could see anchored each honored person to those like me who stood with awe and humility in the midst of their memories. I stood quietly in front of the Kennedy’s grave and watched the eternal flame remembering the courage his leadership provided to our country at a time of such unrest. The Tomb of Unknown Soldier made me realize how many people have been lost in battle, unidentified, unrecognizable or unknown because they were not part of families who could mourn for them.
This Memorial Day, we can all pause to remember the many men and women who have fought for our liberties around the world. My father, who served on a the USS Dyson in World War II, would be ninety-four if he were alive today. Many of his younger colleagues are now in their eighties if they are still with us. Other brave people served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. If you know someone—a family friend or a neighbor—who served our country in one of these wars, I encourage you to talk with them if they are willing and open to share their experiences with you. Most of all, take the time to acknowledge their bravery and to let them know their value to you and to our current and future democracy. Their leadership made a difference and still makes a difference and their stories are being lost to us daily in this generation which is passing away.
More recently, many people who have served in Iraq have not re-entered society easily. Many are in school, working with mental health professionals and attempting to heal while carrying grim images of their experiences with them as they transform their lives from their former lives to their current life. If you are in school with people who have served are recent ROTC recruits, reach out to these brave men and women. If you see them on campus or in class, honor their commitment to keep you and the rest of us safe by defending our liberties around the world. You will be a better person for knowing one of these people and you will likely put your life—your challenges, your hopes and your dreams—into perspective when you reflect on their courage and contributions. No matter how many struggles we feel today with the economy, job scarcity and other uncertainties, we can remember that the brave men and women of World War II returned to this country with little to nothing to their name, accepted jobs in the mail room and other “low level” places of entry only to rise within their companies to make them the industries we still have today. I’ll always remember that Martin Davis, the former CEO of Gulf&Western which was later bought by Simon&Schuster, started in the mail room. No matter where you start today, you can create something valuable, purposeful and lasting through hard work determination and vision. If we remember this and live it in our lives, we will at least be able to pay a small thanks to the people whom we honor on this Memorial Day.
“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” John Donne