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This Memorial Day, I challenge everyone to find a way to honor our nation's fallen
I remember the moment well. It was 1971. I was 26 and living in Memphis, Tenn. I went to get the mail, like I did every day. But, this day was different because there was a letter notifying me that I had been drafted. That is why when people ask me if I volunteered to join the Army, I always say, "Yes, I volunteered. I volunteered to get the mail."
Originally, I was ordered to go to Vietnam, but my orders changed at the last minute and I was instead sent to Camp Casey in South Korea, not too far from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). I often think about this last-minute change and wonder if I am alive today because of it.
I served in the 2nd Infantry Division's Army Medical Corps, and the interesting thing about the 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Medical Battalion is that it is the only Army infantry division to have been led by Marine Corps Generals, Major General John A. Lejeune and Brigadier General Charles A. Doyen. The 2nd Infantry Division is also known for their World War I victory at the Battle of Belleau Wood, which resulted in the infamous nickname for Marines, 'Devil Dogs.'
Before Korea, I was in medical school, learning in a sterile hospital and practicing with proper medical tools. Korea was nothing like what I was used to. It turned out that practicing medicine in a war zone was a bit more like practicing medicine in Gettysburg circa 1863. We did not even have the tools to do a basic blood count, but we did, at least, have a microscope.
As I reflect on Memorial Day, I often think back to my time serving during the Vietnam era. I think about the three doctors, Dr. Tom Cherry, Dr. Mike Fichette, and Dr. John Strauss, who I worked alongside taking care of the nearly 10,000 infantrymen. I think about the lives of the two soldiers we saved who were suffering from extreme heat exhaustion after storming a hill days before Memorial Day in 1973. But mostly, I think about the fallen.
So many great men and women have died serving our country and Memorial Day is when we reflect upon, and honor, their lives and the impact of their sacrifices. Today is not about the many who serve or have served our country, but it is about the many that have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is about those that left behind their loved ones and the comforts of home, never to return. It is because of them that the revered saying, 'land of the free, because of the brave' is true.
We can never fully repay those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom or their families who also made endless sacrifices on our behalf. But, we can honor them through prayer and reflection, through ceremonies and tradition, and even through legislation.
Our Gold Star families, the families of our nation's fallen, personally carry on the legacy of our fallen heroes and because of this, I am passionate about finding ways to ease their burdens. Congress did that recently with the passage of a bill that I authored and am especially fond of, the Forever GI Bill. In addition to allowing eligible veterans to use their GI Bill benefits at any point in their lifetime, the Forever GI Bill also made Fry Scholarship participants eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. The Fry Scholarship allows Gold Star Family members to use the educational benefits their family member never had the chance to and this Congress, my friend and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), introduced the Fry Scholarship Improvement Act of 2019. This bill would extend eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to surviving spouses and children of deceased National Guard and Reserve members whose deaths are deemed service-connected by VA, but who died while not on active-duty if the death occurred within four years of the servicemember's last discharge.
This Memorial Day, I challenge everyone to find a way to honor those who lost their life in service. This can be done in so many ways. Say a prayer, go to your local VA cemetery and lay a wreath on a gravesite, call your member of Congress and advocate for veterans issues you care about, or volunteer with a Veterans Service Organization (VSO). There are many incredible VSOs to choose from, and many that focus specifically on honoring our nation's fallen, such as America's Gold Star Families, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Travis Manion Foundation.
It is an honor to be a veteran, but it is far greater an honor to spend my days working to advance causes that serve and support them and their families. And, while every morning I give thanks for those who have borne the battle on our behalf and those who continue to today, on Memorial Day I give thanks for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It fills me with pride and joy to live in this great nation that exists because of those sacrifices and I pray for every life lost fighting for our freedom.
Dr. Phil Roe represents Tennessee's 1st District and is ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.