I live Memorial Day every day of the year. This is true for many former and present day commanders who have lost men and women in combat or have seen their soldiers wounded in combat. Memorial Day stopped simply being a one-day-a-year deal for me some 25 years ago after my first combat duty in 1991 in Iraq as a Mechanized Infantry Company Commander.
It was there that I walked through the cauldron of combat, and it changed my life. When one has done so, the loss of human life is real and not some distant, unknowable occurrence. Such experiences give new meaning to Memorial Day. Such experiences inform my perspective on how we should honor and recognize the service and sacrifices of our service members.
A number of years ago, I heard Ranger Sergeant (Retired) Jeremy Feldbusch make this comment on a morning TV talk show: “Now that I am blind, I see life more clearly than ever.”
Ranger Sergeant Feldbusch was wounded in action on Hadithia Dam, Iraq on 3 April 2003. He was in the 3rd Ranger Battalion Mortar Platoon and was struck in the right temple by a quarter-sized piece of an artillery fragment. Jeremy has been blind ever since that day. Now that I have my sight, how do I see life more clearly every day in honor of Jeremy and the other Rangers and Soldiers whose lives have been changed so dramatically by combat action?
Similarly, the quote from Ranger Specialist Kris Stonesifer provides insight and motivation for how to remember those who have served; those who continue to serve and for how we as Americans could live our lives each day.
“I would rather have the respect of just one Ranger, than the sympathy of an entire Nation.”
Kris was killed, along with Ranger Specialist Jon Edmunds, on 19 October 2001, at an undisclosed location during the initial invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 by the 3rd Ranger Battalion and other special operations assets. Both men died in a helicopter crash. The Rangers who were at the crash site tried with all of their might to dig Kris and Jon out with their bare hands as the weight of the helicopter pressed into both Rangers who were pinned underneath the aircraft after it crashed. Consoling the Rangers who were at this crash site was the second most difficult leadership experience I have had in my life.
The most difficult leadership experience I have ever had was consoling a pregnant Ranger spouse whose husband was killed on 03 April 2003 by a pregnant suicide bomber and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. As I held the Ranger spouse’s hand and told her that I was so sorry for the loss of her husband—who was an absolutely superb Ranger Noncommissioned Officer—we all knew that her unborn son would never see his father. This non-commissioned officer made the ultimate sacrifice—for all of us. On Memorial Day, we honor and recognize made the ultimate sacrifice.
So how do we respect, honor, and memorialize those who have served and continue to serve our country? Do we do this one day a year? I think not! The spirit of Memorial Day should be part of every single day.
How can we do a better job of respecting one another as American citizens and as members of a globalized world in honor of those who have died preserving our freedom? The answer would begin with selfless service to one another, to our country, and to our world.
In the military, I embraced the U.S. Army Values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I still use these values today to guide my actions. And I would add one more intangible entity and it would go at the top of the list: Faith!
Faith is the assurance of things hoped and the conviction of things not seen. God is real. We wrote about our God-filled journey in Uncommon Bonds: A Journey in Optimism.
As noted by Admiral (Retired) McRaven in our book – Uncommon Bonds –“All men die, but not all men truly live.”
I was blessed with the opportunity to walk in the company of heroes while I served in the U.S. Army and what an honor it has been. I served with men who truly lived!
Memorial Day is the real deal. It is 365 days a year—and rightfully so—in honor of our heroes!