Monday was Memorial Day, a day that marks the annual commemoration of the brave men and women who have died defending our country. On this day, family of the fallen mourn their losses, memorial services honor countless servicemen and women and many pray for a time when war will no longer be necessary. Although remembering the fallen is an emotionally draining experience for anyone, it’s important to ensure that the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us haven’t died in vain. Too often, we overlook the “Memorial” in Memorial Day. We do not observe the day properly—as a time to honor our ancestors and loved ones who have died protecting our flag. Indeed, some of us even forget to celebrate the holiday at all. Observing Memorial Day is important, but it is also important to remember our troops at other times throughout the year.
Our troops embody the soul of our country. They fight, not for themselves, but to defend the rights of the millions of Americans who support them from the home front. Journalist Francis A. Walker once said, “We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them.” Thus, let us not be saddened by the deaths of our soldiers, but instead let us be inspired by the fact that our fallen exemplify exactly what “home of the brave” stands for—honor, duty and sacrifice.
In order to do this, I would like to share a story that was passed on to me by my uncle, Sergeant “Sarge” Fuller, who served in the Vietnam War. Uncle Sarge had a friend he met during basic combat training in Fort Bragg, N.C. Every now and then, he and his friend would visit the medical center to volunteer or participate in a training program. One day, Sarge’s friend was walking through the halls of the medical center when he heard an old patient calling out for his son. The serviceman approached the old man’s bedside and sat in a chair alongside the patient’s bed.
Heavily sedated in order to dull the pain resulting from a heart attack, the old man could not tell whether or not the soldier was his son, but he slowly reached out his trembling hand, hoping that it was his son standing next to the oxygen tank. The soldier wrapped his tough fingers around the old man’s fragile hand, conveying a much-needed message of love and reassurance. Throughout the night, the solider kept hold of the old man’s hand. When the nurse finally came in to check on the patient, she asked of his relation to the old man. The solider replied by telling her that he was the patient’s son.
At times throughout the night, the nurse would suggest that the soldier let go of the patient’s hand and rest for a while, but the soldier refused. Every now and then, he would utter a few words of prayer. In turn, the dying old man said nothing and only retained his grip on the soldier’s hand. Just as the sun was beginning to rise, the old man stopped breathing. The soldier finally released the old man’s lifeless hand to notify the nurse, and moments later, she came in for a final declaration of death and offered a few words of sympathy to the soldier. As the nurse was beginning to walk out, the soldier startled her with an unexpected question: “Who was this man?”
“Wasn’t he your father?” replied the nurse suspiciously. “I have never seen him before in my entire life,” said the soldier. After hearing his response, the nurse started shedding tears.
The soldier knew that the old man needed his son despite his son’s absence. After realizing that the old man was sedated, the soldier decided to stay, knowing that the old man needed him. Sure, there’s no way of me telling whether or not my uncle’s story is true, but I know well enough that there are thousands of inspirational stories out there, just like this one, that bring tears to our eyes. Yes, we are all divided based upon whether or not we are in favor of current wars, but regardless of our disunity, there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t honor our fallen heroes—for indeed they, like my uncle’s friend, embody what is best in the American spirit.
Memorial Day is a day when we should all be grateful for the work of our troops, but it is not an excuse for us to care about them for only one day out of every year. We have thousands of troops who, as you are reading this column, are fighting to defend our country. Is it not selfish of us to honor them on one day and then to proceed with our lives on the next? Remembering the fallen is an American duty. Rather than just thanking them for their service on one day, we can do a hell of a better job at making sure that they didn’t die in vain.
Mousa Alshanteer is a Trinity freshman.
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