On this day, a sacred event in the consciousness of American citizens, as we remember those who lost their lives fighting for our freedoms, we are reminded that most of us cannot truly understand the sacrifice of those who serve in the all-volunteer armed forces. I have always believed that the greatest grief that can befall a human being is the loss of a son or daughter, and many Gold Star families live with this loss on a daily basis. Today marks the first time in 14 years that the United States observes Memorial Day while not engaged in a major ground war, but enlistment in the armed forces still involves a pledge of service and of sacrifice. Two poignant remarks from the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, one delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the other by President Barack Obama, really resonated with me. On the aftermath of loss, Carter offered a message of hope and resilience, often embodied by the image of the phoenix rising up from the ashes:
“Reflect, for a moment, on the way our nation’s flag is flown on Memorial Day. First it is hoisted briskly to the top, with the same clarity of purpose we see in all those who step forward to join our all-volunteer force. Then it is solemnly, soberly lowered to half-staff, a tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But it doesn’t stay there. At noon, it is raised back toward the sky – signaling our will to recover after tragedy, and symbolizing the great strength and resilience that characterizes not only our nation, but also those who defend it, and their families.”
And the second by our Commander in Chief on the mutual sense of family shared by Americans everywhere:
“These sons and daughters, these brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for us – they belong to us all. They’re our children, too. We benefit from their light, their positive influence on the world.”
We do not exist as nation of separate, individual families; rather, we form a collective quilt in the American fabric, beautiful in its diversity and wholeness. May we never forget the legacies of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and may we strive to be worthy of their unfailing devotion. May God bless our fallen heroes and families, and may He bless the United States of America.