Memorial Day Reflections – “Earn This”
A Chance Encounter Between Brothers
A few months ago I was in Los Angeles and had made a quick stop at Starbucks. I saw an LAPD officer at the register ordering, so I darted over in an attempt to buy his coffee. He politely refused, but the cashier was on my side and we finally got him to accept the gesture. The Police Officer thanked me and I told him I was thankful for his service.
We made polite, cordial conversation until I noticed an eagle, globe, and anchor pin on his uniform pocket – the revered Marine Corps emblem. I pulled up my sleeve to display the “USMC” stencil tattoo on my arm. We both smiled and simultaneously said, “Semper Fi”. The cordial demeanor immediately transitioned to that of bonded brothers and we began to talk as if we had known each other for years. We stepped off to the side and had a great conversation, then we went on our separate ways.
This is a very common encounter played out across the globe on any given day. When you become a Marine, you’re in it for life. And, for anyone who is a Veteran of any service, you feel tied to every past American Serviceman and woman who has laid down their life for the idea of freedom. For Veterans, I think we instinctively honor each other as we walk through life, a sort of program that runs in the background. However, on holidays like Memorial Day, it allows time for a more solemn reflection.
A Cost Measured in Blood
For many of us, Memorial Day symbolizes the beginning of summer. But more importantly, it’s a day of remembrance. A day to reflect and be thankful for the brave Americans who have laid such a costly sacrifice on the altar of freedom.
Growing up, I was fortunate to be raised in what I call, “The Land of Giants”. My mother and father both U.S. Marines, my grandfather a WWII Army combat Veteran, one Marine uncle, one Army uncle, and five Navy uncles…some serving during WWII, others during Korea and Vietnam. One of those uncles was one of only ten survivors of the sinking of the U.S.S. Juneau, torpedoed during the Battle of Guadalcanal. With that one ship destroyed, perished with it were several hundred sailors, including the five Sullivan brothers and two Rogers Brothers. With roughly 100 sailors surviving the explosion from a Japanese torpedo, the numbers would dwindle to only 10 after eight days of floating in the unforgiving Pacific waters.
Growing up hearing such stories provided me with a deep appreciation of the human costs involved in keeping a republic like ours free for the past 243 years.
Every day, on every U.S. military reservation across the world, Taps is played at dusk as our military personnel lowers the Stars and Stripes. Taps can best be described as a beautiful bugle call, much like a lullaby that stirs our emotions as it reminds us to reflect and honor those that we have lost. If you are outside when Taps begins to play, service members will quickly and instinctively snap to the position of attention, face the flag or sound of the music, and render a crisp hand salute until that last note, approximately 60 seconds later.
I must have done this routine thousands of times. Yet every time it sends goosebumps over my arms and neck, along with emotions of reverence. However, it is never more powerful than hearing a bugler playing that moving lullaby in-person during a military funeral.
This Memorial Day will look much different than years past, with no parades, large gatherings, or the normal pomp and circumstance. However, the way we truly honor and pay respect for those that sacrificed themselves is to live meaningful and purposeful lives. As Tom Hanks’ character told Matt Damon’s character at the end of the film Saving Private Ryan, “earn this”, referring to the death of the squad sent to rescue him. The way we “earn it” is living a life of meaning and purpose – building happy homes, and raising children full of character.
So, as we embark on this Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to embrace your children, have some special moments with your family, and make sure to laugh a lot. Do that, and you have surely “earned it” in the eyes of those Veterans.
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