Why do we remember? What value comes to those who will stop long enough this weekend to remember the ultimate price that freedom requires? In a nation that, in many ways, is struggling to determine its national identity, how do we benefit by memorializing those who were willing to die to preserve an ideal?
I have always been patriotic. My dad, although never serving in the military, raised me to respect my country and those who have made it free.
Needless to say, the day that I checked in to the First Battalion Fifth Marines as an Infantry platoon commander was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I was proud to join the ranks of more than 200 years of Marines that have served in the finest fighting force on the Planet. We worked and trained and trained some more so that we could deal with anyone that would try to hurt the American way of life.
And then September 11, 2001 happened.
18 months later, on March 19, 2003 I crossed the berm with about 30,000 of my best friends and we began securing strategic objectives in Iraq. We would move north for the next several weeks eventually securing the Presidential Palace in northern Baghdad.
In the last several years there are many things that have transpired in what we now call “The War On Terror,” but I will always be thankful for the opportunity that I had to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best and brightest that our country has to offer and fight to defend the ideals that make this country great.
When I have spoken in the past about the honor that I consider my time serving in the Marine Corps, there are those that have asked me what it is that I like about war and why I would be thankful for the opportunity to serve. They talk about foreign policy and politics and try to explain that I should be ashamed or embarrassed for being a part of a war that they consider ill-advised or even immoral.
These comments clearly come from those who do not understand the brotherhood or Esprit that takes place among those who serve. While I may hold personal feelings and opinions about the wars in which we have been engaged, it is not the politics of the action that cause me to be thankful for the opportunity to have served in this capacity.
To serve in the military of the United States is to stand with fellow Americans that value the principles and ideals of Freedom and Hope more than they do their own lives. Those with the character and integrity necessary to sacrifice one’s own hopes dreams and future for those of people who either cannot or will not serve. This character is what ties those who do serve together with an invisible yet unbreakable bond.
Pride in service is not about politics or conflict or some kind of sadistic love for war, it is pride to have been ready, willing and able to do what most of the world will never do.
It is the reason that the honor and pride of having served and loyalty to others that have, has no age, racial or gender barriers and why in a group of veterans everyone stands on equal ground.
I consider it a double honor to be among those who have served in a foreign conflict.
I understand firsthand what it means to fight alongside those who, far away from the country that they represent are both ready and willing to lay their lives down for the men to the left and right of them.
I know what it is like to await an order that will come at the darkest part of the night to engage in an action that will almost certainly result in death and then to look, while waiting, into the faces of those that will carry out this order and see, not fear or dread, but a courage and certainty that whatever awaits in the darkness will be defeated.
There is always fear. But those who have served will tell you of the courage that comes in the midst of that fear when you are fighting alongside those that you call brother.
This is why I am thankful for the opportunity to have served.
While I honor and respect those who have served in any capacity, I will forever be grateful to have served as a Marine.
As a Marine, I have always understood that I had the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. That any action that I have been involved in is an action committed on behalf of more than two centuries of Marines that have gone before me.
The History of the Marine Corps is a History not only of victory on the Battlefields of the world for the last 238 years, but a History of Men and Women who understand fundamentally that their existence is not about them. That they are a part of an organization that stands united in the defense of Freedom and against tyranny and oppression.
In the Marine Corps new recruits and Officer Candidates alike are taught their Core Values.
The Values of:
Honor-Doing what is right because it is right.
Courage-Pressing forward in the face of fear and opposition.
Commitment-Completion of the task at hand regardless of the obstacles or difficulties.
These values require the sacrifice of self and an understanding that your life really is about the impact that you make on those around you.
This is why Marines are so concerned about their history. Because leaving a legacy that others can and want to follow is of primary concern.
It is these ideals that make Memorial Day so important. These ideals are the reason that we must remember!
Having a day set aside to remember those who have paid for our freedom not only preserves their legacy but is a way for all of us to say, “Hey, all politics aside, while we may disagree on so many other things, as a Americans we agree that we are behind those that are willing to stand up for us.”
But it really is bigger than just a preservation of legacy or a statement of unity.
We must remember freedom’s price so that as dark and difficult as things will inevitably become, we hang on to the truth that there is always hope as long as there are those willing to stand up for the things that are important.
The core values of:
We need to remember that as long as there are people who will stand up for right because it is right and will courageously push forward in the face of both fear and opposition and will remain faithful, never losing hope until all is restored,
Then there is no foe, no economic calamity, no political ideology, and no foreign invader that can defeat us.
During the Battle of Belleau Wood on July 19th 1918 1st Lt. Clifton B. Cates was calling for support. His call to higher was this:
I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.
That is the Spirit of the Marine Corps and that is the Spirit that this Memorial Day should represent.
Things may look really, really bad sometimes, but those of us who refuse to forget will never give up!
There is hope.
There is light.
There is freedom.
But only when we are willing to live to the ideals and values that this day represents.
Memorial Day is a call to action to all that love the ideals for which it stands.
We honor and hold ourselves forever in debt to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Let us not celebrate this day simply grateful for what has been done or satisfied that others are keeping us safe. We must remember in order to renew our commitment freedom and a life that could be summed up with the very simple words of the Marine corps Motto,
Semper Fidelis!-Always and forever faithful.
Jeremy Stalnecker Executive Director – Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation