Take Time to Honor the Living, As Well

Center Managers across the Southwest Asia (SWA) region were tasked to come up with unique way of saying thank you to USO Sponsors as part of Operation Thank You. Joe Bowman, Camp LSA Duty Manager, had the idea to create an American flag made of uniforms, soldiers’ patches, and flak jacket material that represents all the service men and women stationed in the SWA region. USO staff, volunteers, and Troops proudly stand with the finished product in December 2009.

by Sloan Gibson, President and CEO of the USO:

Each Memorial Day, American flags around the world are lowered to half-staff. It’s a quiet gesture that reminds us of those former defenders who are no longer with us.

At noon, though, the flags are returned to the top of their poles, symbolizing the continuity of this nation. That gesture is an affirmation that the nation lives on, and is not in mourning.

Symbolism aside, the last Monday in May is the most solemn holiday for most American veterans. The day is celebrated at cemeteries and town squares – at barbecues and baseball games. It is an opportunity to pause for a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans who risked their lives to ensure our freedoms. It’s a time for us to issue one more “Thank You” to those who cannot celebrate with us.
Since the last quarter of the 19th Century, that has been the case. Graves are made tidy, and veterans tell their stories to their grandchildren, and the cycle continues in times of war and peace.

For nearly nine years this generation’s service men and women have been going into combat, with predictable costs — many deaths and an astonishing number of life altering injuries that would likely have been fatal just a generation ago. So, I propose that this year as we remember those who have died, we pay additional attention to those who return changed forever.

Of course, I mean no disrespect to those, like my father, we honor on Memorial Day, but each day, I am reminded about the other casualties of combat. When I visit a military hospital, I see young men and women who are facing a life they could not anticipate. I see their wounds and witness their limitless spirit as they work to recover. And, I wonder.

I wonder what will happen when the sergeant leaves the service and security of his surroundings wherever he is recovering, and goes back to a town he left years before. It is very likely that the people in his community haven’t been thinking about Iraq or Afghanistan or the men and women who serve there. How will he be welcomed back?

I wonder about the former helicopter pilot who was shot down and has been learning how to walk again. Does the community she left remember her? Will she be welcomed home not only as a hero, but also as a productive citizen?

This nation has gone through radical changes since the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in how it responds to its troops. For whatever reason, our troops today are accorded the respect they have earned, and do not face the antipathy many Vietnam veterans experienced. That’s a good thing, and it reflects well on Americans.

But one thing is apparent to those of us who deal with our service men and women nearly everywhere they serve. This nation has not come to grips with the fact that hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens are serving in harm’s way, and sometimes they become a casualty of war.

Those who serve ask little of us. A simple expression of thanks and to be accepted and given the chance to prove their worth is often more than enough. They want to continue to contribute.

So, on this Memorial Day, we honor those no longer with us. But, let’s also take a moment and thank those who do return and offer them our gratitude and the opportunity to have full and productive lives.

This essay is also available online from The Hill.

6 thoughts on “Take Time to Honor the Living, As Well

  1. This is a very well written essay, I honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice but we often forget those who are still serving , I sit home on this Memorial day much like the last 14 years while my husband is out to sea providing protection to the rest of us. My kids and I have nothing planned, no barbeque etc just staying home as a family only wishing he could be here with us but that is a sacrifice as well!! THANK YOU to all the troops who gave thier lives and to to those still serving

  2. Thank you to all of the great men & women who have served & are serving our country. The freedoms we have are because of you. My thoughts & prayers are with you. I pray each & every one come home safe.

  3. Memorial Day is a day to remember and pay our respects to all those that have given their lives defending our country.
    Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day our paying opur respects to our living veterans.
    Everday we should thank those serving in our armed forces, I do.
    Its OK to BBque, go to a game, or spend the day at the lake enjoying your selves, just remember the men and woman who gave their lives so that you could enjoy yours.

  4. Memorial Day and everyday we should remember all of our fallen hero, who proudly gave their lives so that we could continue to have our freedom. We should also think about all of our troops who are so far from their loved ones just for us. Also, we should remember all of our Viet Nam Vets who never got a loving “Welcome Home” and thank them for their service and give them their long over due “Welcome Home”!

  5. I PLAY TO GOD TO PROTECT YOU AND YOUR SAFETY WHILE DEPLOYMENT TO WAR IN MIDDLE EAST. HONOR MY FATHER AND WAS AIR FORCE MECHANIC DURING KOREAN WAR. HE PASSED AWAY LAST NOVEMBER 18, 2009. HE LOVES HIS COUNTRY AND PATRIOTISM OF USA.

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