There's more to it than that. I've already written about the parades and history of the day. ("Memorial Day 2009 " (May 25, 2009))
This editorial, re-posted with permission, covers an often-forgotten part of the military community: the gold star families.
Remembering the Gold Star FamiliesEditorial by Army Col. David Sutherland, Middle East Region Division Chief – Joint Staff, Washington, D.C.
While immense honor is paid to our men and women who have died in combat, I was recently reminded of a void where we, as citizens of this brave nation, often fall short.
A mother of one of my fallen Soldiers recently expressed sadness at how unfamiliar most American's are with the concept of Gold Star families, those who have lost loved ones in a time of war. They bravely remain at home with a silent fear, constantly praying they never receive that dreaded knock on their doors.
Unfortunately, Memorial Day has been embedded with the myriad of holidays we often forget the true meaning of and take for granted. Unless directly affected, it often becomes a reason to sleep in, party or shop, rather than the day of remembrance and tribute it was declared to be.
However, this amazing American, like many Gold Star mothers before her, turned her sacrifice and loss into inspiration for service—leaving a lucrative position at a consulting firm to serve in a Contractor Team in Iraq. Other Gold Star families have started non-profits focused on serving those that protect and harness our freedom. They devote their lives to the service of our service men and women, shipping supplies to schools in Iraq, forming support groups for others mourning loss, or by becoming politically active to advocate veterans' causes.
Through all of their difficulties, the dedication of our military families remains. It is, after all, their support that allows us to remain the greatest fighting force in the world. As our servicemembers raise their right hand to enlist or re-enlist, our families are right there with them. These families are the cornerstone of our strength – their sacrifices are great.
I recently had the honor of presenting General David Petraeus, U.S. Central Command commander, with the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation's Freedom Award. During the ceremony, which honors the children of our fallen men and women, there were many Gold Star families in attendance. It was an honor to be amongst such strength and perseverance.
I asked one of the spouses what she would want the world to know about her husband, Staff Sgt. Donnie Dixon. With a moment of reflection, she boldly said, “Donnie was not just known for his sacrifice in the Army, but also for his family.
The love for his wife and four children – Shabria, Donnie Jr., Ta'Mya, and D'Andre, was his strength. “When we did our video teleconference [just before he was killed], I remember asking him why was he back out on patrol after [having been wounded in a recent suicide bombing]. His response was, ‘Ma, this is my job.'
“Right then I knew that after serving 17 years in the military, his heart was much bigger than I realized. Donnie not only lived his life Army Strong, but left us with a smile that would last a lifetime.”
Donnie and countless others unselfishly left their Gold Star families behind to continue the struggle in their absence. These families have lost their father, brother, sister, mother, son, daughter and the love of their lives while serving a cause far greater than most can imagine.
As I reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, I humbly honor those members of the military I had the pleasure of serving with, most importantly my fallen and wounded Soldiers, who fought as true warriors and ultimately paid the greatest sacrifice. They are my heroes – their sacrifices are great.
Today, extensive security tasks remain before us as we achieve our objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, defeat the al Qaeda network, and build greater partnership capacity. We execute this mission with the support of a great cadre of Veterans looking forward to a Middle East region of secure, stable, independent, peaceful and responsibly governed states, where the freedom and dignity of the peoples of the region are protected.
So this Memorial Day I ask you to join me. Recommit yourselves to not only remember our fallen service members, but the other half of our fallen who quietly serve, and often continue serving on their Soldiers' behalf after their loved ones are gone. Never forget that this day is not only a symbol of our Soldiers' sacrifices, but the sacrifices of their families, friends and comrades in arms.
Col. David Sutherland is Middle East Region Division Chief on the Joint Staff and served as the commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, deployed to Diyala province, Iraq from October 2006 to December 2007.
A tip of the hat to lindykyzer, on Twitter, for providing this editorial.