Every day, I take a moment to reflect on the countless brave men and women who have donned the cloth of our nation in its defense. I remember those fallen warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice – many of them eternally attired in the very uniform in which they honorably served.
I am often asked by my fellow Americans if there is more they can do to show their appreciation for our service members, past and present. They tell me that “thank you” doesn’t feel like quite enough. They wonder how to best pay tribute to those men and women who gave up their future so we could have ours.
My response to them is this: Remember.
Our great nation has set aside Memorial Day for this very purpose – to remember the fallen, to remember how they stood with courage, and to commemorate their definitive display of devotion to America and her principles. This observance solidifies a bond across generations, and between America, her citizens, and those who serve in her defense.
Acts of remembrance are a way of life for the families of the missing and the fallen, and we should take heed of their example.
So tomorrow, when you resume life’s routines, take a moment to think of the family who has one less voice of laughter in their home and one less place setting at their dinner table because their loved one now rests among those brave souls who ventured into harm’s way on our behalf. Think of those families who have a loved one at peace in cemeteries at home and abroad, in unmarked graves on distant battlefields and in the tranquil blue seas.
And in the weeks and months to come, continue to remember.
When you see our star-spangled banner waving over your child’s school, or at your local shopping center, or in front of your neighbor’s home, take a moment to pause and consider those men and women who gave their lives for the principles that make America exceptional.
Upon seeing a Purple Heart license plate, or hearing the national anthem at a sporting event, or taking particular note of America’s natural beauty, you should reflect for a moment on those who did not survive their wounds… who did not return home… who can never again salute the flag.
These are the acts of remembrance – daily rituals of reflection handed down to us by families of the fallen for centuries. Remembrance, like love and trust, only truly exists in our actions. It is not a place we visit or simple sentiment, but a debt of gratitude that governs our way of life. It is through these gestures that the fallen live forever in our hearts and in the fabric of our nation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes says of Memorial Day, “We can hardly share the emotions that make this day to us the most sacred day of the year, and embody them in ceremonial pomp, without in some degree imparting them to those who come after us.”
Let us pledge today to make a habit of these acts of remembrance as an example for the generations that follow. But we cannot stop there. We must also celebrate the lives of the fallen… cherish the hope that their devotion fosters in us…. and treasure the freedom made possible by their service to the Nation.
And a year from now, on the last Monday of May, we will reaffirm our promise to always remember.
May God give rest to our fallen and missing, solace to their families, and blessings to our United States of America.
Dempsey is the 18th CJCS, serving since 2011.