For most citizens of the South Sound, Memorial Day weekend is respite from work, an opportunity to relax, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy all the amenities that Washington has to offer.
It’s also a day where we, as a nation, collectively pay particular tribute to our countrymen who stepped forward, put their lives on the line and defended the many freedoms we cherish. It’s because of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who never returned home to their loved ones that we must never forget the importance of Memorial Day.
We need Memorial Day because it is an affirmation of our respect and gratitude to the men and women who died in the service for our country. Soldiers such as Pvt. William Henry Christman from the 67th Pennsylvania, who on May 13, 1864 was the first soldier laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, or Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s own 1st Special Forces Group. He was the first American soldier killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on Jan. 4, 2002.
Both of these soldiers, and the generations who came before and after, exemplify the very best in all us. They served with honor and put the welfare of the nation before their own. They remind us that real freedom comes with a high price.
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We need Memorial Day to remind us that we must never be lulled into a false sense that today’s world is safe and free from all-out war or despot leaders. In the early 1920s, a young Winston Churchill cautioned his countrymen about this attitude.
“War is too foolish, too fantastic, to be thought of in the 20th century,” he wrote. “Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, liberal principles … common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong.”
We need Memorial Day to remind us of organizations such as Wear Blue: Run to Remember. This community group, with its roots in the city of DuPont, is comprised of soldiers, veterans, military families, wounded warriors, Gold Star families, neighbors and friends who have joined together to build an incredible support network. They meet every weekend, rain or shine, to run or walk, but more importantly to remember the fallen and keep the spirit of their heroes alive.
We need Memorial Day so we never allow our Gold Star mothers and fathers to fade into obscurity. They represent the legacy of their sons and daughters who died in the service of our nation.
They carry with them a grief that most of us will never know or understand. However, in the midst of their pain, they are beacons of sunshine. They strive to keep the memory of their soldier, sailor, airman or Marine alive by working to help veterans, soldiers and their families.
We need Memorial Day so that we never forget the more than 80,000 American military personnel, dating back to World War II, who are still missing.
“We will never leave a fallen comrade.” This sentence, from the soldier’s creed, speaks to every American and our duty to ensure we never give up and never forget our sons and daughters who are missing.
Our community demonstrated this commitment this month when we welcomed home Air Force Capt. Douglas Ferguson, a native of Tacoma. Ferguson was shot down over Laos on Dec. 30, 1969. He was laid to rest on May 2 at Mountain View Funeral Home in Lakewood nearly 45 years after his plane was lost in combat during the Vietnam War.
As citizens of this great republic, we have not lived under tyranny. We have the right to voice our opinion, the right to vote and the right to worship how we choose.
Freedom is an accepted norm, but it comes with a high price. As the war in Afghanistan winds down, we cannot let our patriotic fervor die. We must never let the sacrifice of the thousands who gave it their all be forgotten. We cannot lose sight that our country has committed our greatest treasure — our sons and daughters — to defend our freedom.
We must never forget that the American Soldier is a part of the fabric that makes us the greatest nation on Earth. We must never forget why we need Memorial Day.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza is commander of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.