As a young girl, I appreciated Memorial Day only because it presented a holiday from school. It is only as I have become older that I have truly begun to understand what Memorial Day is all about. General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, first proclaimed that flowers should be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers on May 5, 1868. In the 1915 and into the 1920s the idea was conceived and implemented to wear red Poppies in honor of those who died serving the country. Our traditions have changed over the years, and now we honor the day and those it remembers by holding parades and ceremonies.
While attending a Memorial Day parade, I realized that while military deaths overseas may sometimes be used politically, they are also used as a means of togetherness. Americans bond through what we have gained by sadly, losing so much in those that have made sacrifices to make our country better. I watched the small children running for the treats my county’s Republican Club was tossing from our float, and I thought to myself, “How many of these kids, unaware now of what this day even stands for, will fight for our country in the future?” Every day, my heart swells with the sight of our flag, which flies as highly and proudly as it does only because of a sacrifice made before my time – on Memorial Day, flags have even more meaning, particularly when a flag is marking the grave of a veteran.
With a building awareness of the gift our military men and women have given to us throughout history, I realized that every day should be Memorial Day. After all, can we really honor our military heroes in one day every year? Our country could never have become what it is without the heroes of our past who fought valiantly with a vision of a successful future free of malevolent dictators and Communism. The United States will never remain a home of growth, freedom and inspiration without those who are willing to sacrifice everything for its ideals in a “sandbox” far from home, with glory in their hearts, unwaveringly dedicated constitutions, and iron wills. Memorial Day is when we honor those who have given everything for what they believe in- our heroes who have both made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who put their lives on the line every day in distant lands in the name of the Red, White and Blue. While the holiday’s purpose is to memorialize those whose lives were lost defending their county, many Americans also spend the day appreciating the full of life fighters who risk their lives every day; we realize those same lives could quickly become ones we memorialize, and we appreciate that risk and sacrifice more than words can say.
As Americans, we share a unique and wonderful privilege; at any point in time we can look over our shoulders and see a hero. Anyone can be a hero, but our military is made up of special heroes who are willing to go the extra mile, who dedicate themselves to the safety, security and freedom of this county. They will do anything to make sure its future direction is positive and bright.
Call a member of our military a hero, and they will probably resist the title. In fact, these are selfless people who will most likely insist they are just doing a job without the idea of glory in mind, in order to fight for the freedom and safety of America. Heroes are made when lives hang in the balance; personal welfare often isn’t considered next to the welfare of comrades. Hero stories abound from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of the world where our troops are stationed, and throughout history they have mounted in great numbers from every conflict where Americans have played a major part.
One particular story from Iraq that touched me beyond words was that of Corporal Jason Dunham. Michael M. Phillips chronicles the Marine’s valiant story in The Gift of Valor, A War Story. On April 14, 2004, Corporal Dunham was patrolling near the Syrian Border when an insurgent attacked him. The two were engaged in hand-to-hand combat when Corporal Dunham’s attacker dropped a grenade. In the three to five seconds this twenty-two year old had to make a decision, he chose to place his own helmet over the grenade to contain the explosion and protect his men from life-threatening injuries. In the process, the Corporal himself sustained fatal injuries, which were untreatable despite the frantic efforts that took place over numerous days to try to save his young, heroic life. This brave patriot was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest award for military valor.
In our country’s history we have seen bloody battles and amazing victory that have left us with personal stories of both tragedy and inspiration. The ones we have lost will always be a part of our country’s fabric; everything in our country’s history is owed to them, and every day should be spent remembering their dedication, selflessness, and sacrifice.