All gave some. Some gave all. We salute all those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.
Today we will be sharing thoughts about the significance of Memorial Day from members of the Warrior2Citizen community.
Today, I reflect on the many graves that I have seen, and ceremonies attended to honor a veteran who gave the ultimate sacrifice. On Memorial Day 2020, once again at every opportunity I will share my heartfelt gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice given to our nation by veterans while keeping in-mind the losses experienced by families and friends of the fallen. I am reminded while observing the young children holding and placing flags on gravestones how significant it is to embrace them for their symbolic efforts and thank their parents for the modelling that they exhibit. Watching the many communities all coming together in this challenging time to honor the fallen, is inspiring… but, also honoring the living in uniform serving our county is noble as we honor those heroes that have passed. Today, I will share these thoughts with friends from my Special Forces and National Guard friends, including friends and fellow Board members of our non-profit, Warrior to Citizen, Inc.
Today, at dawn, I am looking forward to renewing fond memories of those lost, offering a special prayer to those families whose pain from their immeasurable loss is acute. On Memorial Day, so many Americans share a similar experience and visit graveyards in memory of the fallen. In silent prayer for my brothers and sisters that too suffer the losses of battle buddies downrange; or from trauma experienced, I hope on this day of honor that they will find peace. Even though it has been over a decade in my minds-eye witnessing ceremonies at Arlington and the Georgia Memorial Cemetery, the sadness creeps in. On Memorial Day 2020, I plan to see families of our military to say thank you to both the living and those who have passed. If time permits, again I will observe young and old pay their respects at the Marietta National Cemetery. I hope that experience is alongside the young family members there to honor those veterans in their final resting place. I was honored to share this experience last year with a fellow Board Member and Veteran who at dawn encouraged me to join his annual visit to the Marietta National Cemetery. On this most important holiday, he and I captured priceless photos of the sunrise over the graves of the fallen.
I have a sense that each friend has their own emotional experience and memory of Memorial Day Perhaps the experiences enjoyed as a child led you on a patriotic course in life. Mine, since a child creating patriotic symbols (streamers of red, white, blue) on my bicycle and participation in Memorial Day celebrations reinforced my sense of my family’s respect for the sacrifices made by those soldiers seen in our town parade. Those were simple times, but memories not forgotten. Today, I offer my prayers for all that have given the ultimate sacrifice and especially those friends that I grew to care about as brothers. God Bless them and forever their memories. Today to my fellow Board Members and volunteers, blessings to you for that you have given to our nation’s veteran families.
Since moving to Atlanta nearly 30 years ago – I developed a deep fondness for Marietta National Cemetery – for its beauty, it symbolic majesty and its “residents”. Almost every Memorial Day since 1997 I would arrive at its hallowed grounds in wee hours of the morning. Would position myself on the second highest “tier” facing east – about 30 minutes prior to sunrise. From that vantage point – I would watch the sun rise above the fences and trees and start to shine upon the curving rows of pure white grave markers on the undulating hills below me. The satisfaction and pure joy of being there at that time in the morning when no one else is there – straightening flags, cleaning pigeon poop off the top of the headstones – and saying thanks to those whose headstones I pass by – is a priceless reward compared to the investment. As I once noted to a friend – at that very moment – it is the best seat, in the best pew, in the best “chapel” in the land. There is also historical enrichment that results from each visit. One example – in my May 27, 2013 visit – I noticed for the first time a relatively new looking grave marker – commemorating a Medal of Honor winner from the Civil War – his name is Dennis B Buckley. I did not know how I missed it in previous visits – but there are now over 19,000 interments throughout the 24 acres – so maybe that contributed to my previous oversights. However – when I got home that morning – I researched his name on the internet and found a very interesting story. In 1864 Private Buckley was erroneously buried under the name of Dennis Burkley. After 142 years that error was corrected in 2006. The full story can be found at http://www.reocities.com/ntgreencitizen/buckley.html. This is just one of many stories – associated with the brave men and women memorialized on these sacred grounds. I look forward to my return visit this Monday – to honor our fallen heroes and to learn some more history.
For me, Memorial Day changed forever on April 9, 2013 just outside of J-bad in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.
Prior to that date, Memorial Day meant two things: 1) remembering those anonymous service members who died fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy in America, and 2) the family weekend, celebrating the “unofficial start of summer” with the running of the Indianapolis 500. And, honestly, of the two, grilled hamburgers with my family while listening to the Indy 500 on the radio was the more important.
Beginning with the 2013 Memorial Day – which I celebrated in Afghanistan – the remembrances have been less anonymous and much more personal. I don’t think about the lives of people I’ve read about; I see the faces of my friends. I remember the laughter. I hear the voices around the smoke pit after missions. And I mourn all over again. And you probably do too.
Suddenly the family time is less important on this day—we can do that any other weekend. And I’m not missing the Indy 500 this year at all.
But I am missing my friends.
I sincerely give thanks to God that I returned home safely from the Middle East both times. Not everyone did.
Just like everyone else who has ever worn the uniform, I could have been required to pay the ultimate price. But I wasn’t. The least that I can do now is to honor the memories of those who paid that price.
I joined Warrior to Citizen for the same reason that I became an Army Chaplain – I want to help Service Members and their families – and now First Responders and their families, too – as they conquer the many stresses that they face when they do what they do, serving the citizens of this great nation.
Today, 25 May 2020, will mark 154 years that we as a nation have set aside a time, a day, to reverently think about and solemnly thank those that have given their all for the rare and wonderful blessings of Freedom that we all enjoy as Americans.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” Today we are here to honor the ones that “Gave All”, and in the words of Abraham Lincoln in a portion of the Gettysburg Address, “… gave their last full measure of devotion …”.
Beginning 245 years ago, during the founding and struggling days our nation in 1775 and until the 15th of this month, May 2020, almost two million service men and women have been wounded in battle while exactly 1,198,465 have actually given the last full measure of devotion to the preservation of one important and sacred word. That word is “Freedom”. Because Freedom has never been or will ever be free, we will always have Memorial Day.
The continuation of our blessed Freedom demands a heavy price, sometimes with the cost of precious blood. In the recent words of United States Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, “We only have a lease on Freedom, we don’t own the deed !”
These almost one million, two hundred thousand men and women that I mentioned, paid the ultimate sacrifice, and in the words spoken by John F. Kennedy, they did not ask what their country could do for them but rather, they gave their all for their country, and for you, and for me, and for every American so that blessed Freedom could be continually secured and insured.
Who are these people that have given their all so that you and I can continue to breathe the good, clean, fresh air of America’s Freedom? They are American men and women from every walk of life and from every part of our great land that once raised their right hand, took an oath, and served in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard.
When I think of these selfless “Defenders of Freedom”, two passages from the Bible come to mind. The first passage, from the Old Testament, asks two questions and then provides an immediate answer to those questions. The other passage, from the New Testament, describes what these Defenders of Freedom did.
The two questions from the first passage is found in Isaiah 6:8, with the two questions being, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
And then the answer immediately comes, “Here am I. Send me!”
The second passage is John 15:13
“Greater Love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend”.
From our nation’s beginning, when our nation needed Warriors and asked who would go for us, young Americans all across our land raised their hand and said, in essence … “Here am I, send me.”
Their “send me” response also demonstrated the willingness of their selfless service of the second Bible verse, for when these young Americans raised their right hand and took that serious, life-changing, and selfless oath, they were then again saying, in essence …
“I love my country, our freedoms, and our people so much that I am willing to lay down my life for them.”
And as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:13,
“And now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love. But the greatest of these is Love”.
These men and women took an oath but what does that oath say? I am sure that most of us have heard or have said the words in that oath but, listen to a portion of the oath and ponder their impact.
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; …”
What this oath is saying is that these men and women swore to defend a piece of paper but, it is not just any piece of paper, that piece of paper is the Constitution of the United States. It is the ideals and dreams of our Founding Fathers, it is the guarantee of Freedom and hope for all Americans, and a shining example to others around the world that also desire Freedom. A piece of paper, not a king, not any other human but, a piece of paper with the idea and the ideals and the love of Freedom.
You see, without those selfless service men and women living today and those that have sacrificed their all, none of the Freedoms listed in our Constitution, and that we too often take for granted, would be or could be realized.
On Memorial Day, the specific hour that is devoted to the memory and honor of those one million plus that have given their all for you and me is at 3 PM. Tomorrow at 3 PM, I would graciously ask all of us to stop whatever we are doing at that time and spend a moment of silence and in prayer for those that have allowed us to live free. However, let us not wait for the last Monday each May to remember but, let us do it as we think of our Freedoms and those that have sacrificed all of their tomorrows so that we and our children can live in Freedom, today.
Many of us perhaps struggle with what to say as a greeting before or on Memorial Day. Phrases like, “Happy Memorial Day” just do not seem quite appropriate in my mind. Allow me to suggest, “Have A Blessed Memorial Day” and if addressing a Veteran or Service Member, “Thank You For Your Service and Sacrifice” is always appreciated.
As a young Soldier on many battlefields long ago and in a faraway place, I experienced firsthand the bravery and selflessness of other young American Soldiers as they set about to do their duty. Some of those Soldiers, my Brothers, did not live to see their land of birth, or to hug and kiss their wives and children, or their mothers and fathers. For some, the last living eyes that they looked into or the last human touch that they felt was mine. I have wondered and pondered for well over fifty years, why them, and not me?
Memorial Day is a very personal day for me and I am sure for anyone that has lost a family member of friend in combat. When I think of those men close to me that were Killed-in-Action or died in captivity as Prisoners-of- War, so many names come to mind like, Dennis Jacobs, Richard Bowers, Clyde Moore, Bill Bray, Bob Lazaro, Howard Coles, Bob Gallagher, Omar Jones, Harold Martin, Bill Ordway, Bill Phillips, Pete Zanca, and Bill Zimmerman. Again, “all gave some”, but these, and so many more, “gave all”.
In the dawning moments on the 26th of June in 2003 near Bagdad, Iraq, an improvised explosive device was detonated against a US Army Humvee as it and its occupants were returning from a night mission against those who hate the Freedom that we have discussed this morning. In that vehicle were six young United States Army Rangers. The detonation killed two of the six and seriously wounded the other four. The two men that were killed were Corporal Andrew Chris and Sargent Timothy Conneway both from Alabama, and one of the wounded was the Platoon Leader and he was given just hours to live due to being hit in the left lung, head, and left arm. He was expected to be the third Killed-in-Action on that vehicle. Because of his young age of 25, well-conditioned and strong body as a Ranger, immediate and excellent military medical treatment, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of prayers by an untold number of Believers to our gracious Lord, that Ranger Lieutenant lived! After his recovery, this man deployed for a total of ten times to Iraq and Afghanistan accumulating 39 months in combat and while always leading Army Rangers or other Infantrymen. That particular Ranger today is still leading other Soldiers and continues to boldly stand in the gap for the preservation of Freedom. Next month, he will again be leading Army Rangers as he takes command of the 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia, the very same unit that he was in as a Lieutenant when he was wounded. Very soon, he and his Rangers will once again pick-up a piece, strap-on a ruck and deploy to rough places … for us.
That Army Ranger that lived is our Son, United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Graham White.
Like I said earlier, Memorial Day is very personally meaningful for me and my wife, Pamela, in so many ways.
A close Veteran and Christian friend of mine is Tommy Clack. Tommy lives near hear and is an inspiration and a blessing to everyone he meets. During an intense battle in Vietnam, Tommy was severely wounded, loosing both legs and his right arm, he is a triple amputee. Tommy closes each email correspondence with these words.
“Only Two Defining Forces Have Ever Offered To Die For You, JESUS CHRIST And The American Soldier. One Died For Your Soul, The Other Died For Your Freedoms!”
In closing, let us resolve to never forget the unimaginable sacrifices and the ultimate price that these precious “Defenders of Freedom” and their loved ones have paid.
God bless you.
God bless all those that have given their very lives and their blood for our blessed Freedom.
God bless all those that currently stand in the gap for our Nation.
And may God continue to bless the United States of America.