The Final Salute
How we can honor those who paid the ultimate price this Memorial Day, and ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain
Memorial Day is always a tough day. While the ads and signs say “Happy Memorial Day!” - for many of us who serve or have served, it’s not a happy day. It’s a day to remember our friends who are no longer with us. It’s a day where we think of our last memories with our friends who were killed in combat, thoughts of the loved ones they left behind, and reflection on the selfless sacrifice they made in service to our country.
In 2005, I was deployed to Iraq where I served in a medical unit. Every single day I was confronted with this high human cost of war.
We remember the day that we celebrated their lives, going through the final roll call, and deafening silence when their name was called with no response. We gave them one final salute to their empty boots, helmet, and rifle.
As we gather at cemeteries and memorials all across the country where our heroes have been laid to rest, we are reminded of the very real, high cost of war, and who pays that price — never forgetting our brothers and sisters who still serve in harm’s way today.
That cost seen in the names on gravestones that we adorn with lei and American flags. The memories of our friends live on our hearts.
So nothing angers me more than to see the hypocrisy every Memorial Day coming from warmongering politicians and media “pundits” who feign respect, gratitude, and empathy for those who paid the ultimate price in service to our country, while simultaneously advocating for more military adventurism, the new Cold War and nuclear arms race.
They don’t seem to understand, appreciate or care about who pays the price for these unnecessary costly wars. They carelessly throw around possible numbers of casualties without recognizing every one of those 'numbers is a person, one of our fellow Americans — someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad.
They don’t know what it’s like to say goodbye to your family and loved ones, giving them one last hug and kiss goodbye, knowing that it could your last.
They don’t know the anxiety that these families live with every single day, every hour and minute, when their loved ones are serving abroad, praying for their safe return and dreading that phone call or knock at the door that could forever turn their world upside-down.
During my first deployment to Iraq, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the stress that my family went through. I was focused on my mission and doing my job. It wasn’t until I came home that it truly hit me.
The plane landed at Hickam Air Force base in the dark pre-dawn hours. We stepped off the plane and walked down the steps to the tarmac, feeling the sweet Hawaii trade wind breezes, as the sky began to turn a beautiful array of pinks and oranges. It was so good to be home. We had our last formation, and the general called out, “Dismissed!" - releasing us after what had been a very long eighteen-month deployment. I ran toward my family, and into the arms of my dad first. As we held each other tight, my dad cried. I had never seen him cry before. It was at that moment that the weight of my service on their hearts became clear.
The way to honor our troops who sacrificed their lives for our country is to prevent unnecessary, costly wars which will result in the deaths of many more of our brothers and sisters in uniform.
While we shed tears, share stories, times of sadness and times of joy, thinking of our friends, celebrating the lives that they lived, let’s remember the purpose they chose for their lives, their strength, courage, and deep love for our country. Let’s make sure that today, and every day, we honor them. We make sure that they are never forgotten and that their sacrifice was not made in vain.
On this Memorial Day, and every day, may we remember those who gave all, and that war should only be waged as the very last resort to keep the American people safe and free.