Greek philosopher Aristotle had the best encouragement to offer those who serve the nation: “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” Every day Americans enjoy freedom and safety from foreign enemies is a day to be eternally grateful for the willingness of soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, and Guardians to serve. These amazing people sacrifice personal aspirations and, all too often, their lives serving.
This Memorial Day will be particularly poignant and meaningful for the families of 13 young service members who lost their lives at Abbey Gate, Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. The 11 US Marines, Navy corpsman, and Army special operations soldier lost their lives helping rescue Americans and friendly Afghans attempting to escape Taliban killers. The dedication to serving their country was emblematic of the highest plane of selflessness our nation holds dear and enjoys because we have such fine individuals defending America.
“The fallen service members were part of Operation Allies Refuge, the mission to evacuate American citizens and Afghans who assisted the US and its allies during their 20-year war in Afghanistan,” David Roza and Paul Szoldra wrote for Task and Purpose. The mission’s name could not be more apt for what we have over the nation’s history expected and received from America’s fighting men and women. Those who have fallen in defense of this nation provide refuge from foes and evil people who would destroy democracy where it exists and stand in the way of those seeking the freedom democracy offers.
What started on May 5, 1868, with General Order No. 11 issued by Major General John A. Logan, officially setting aside a day to remember those soldiers who died in the Civil War, is today much more. Americans need a Memorial Day. A day of remembrance is a moral imperative to shake us, prod us, and stop us, if only for a moment at 3:00 PM on the last Monday in May, to reflect on the freedom provided by the good works of others. “A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it,” Frederick Douglass, one of America’s great orators, statesmen, and moralists said, setting a direction for principled national character. “No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation,” General Douglas MacArthur warned. Remembering the fallen is an essential part of vigilance.
And, of course, there will be battles to test the United States’ resolve and character. Because “… for each of us who wants to live in happiness and give happiness, there’s another different sort of person wanting to take it away,” as Thomas Meehan explained in Stephen Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers. We must be forever grateful there are those among us who see defending freedom from those “wanting to take it away” as a duty, an obligation as a citizen.
For those Americans who celebrate with what has become Memorial Day’s traditions of family gatherings and parades, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks,” Saint Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan, reminds us. The dedicated 13 who fell at Abbey Gate in faraway Kabul were honorable and courageous and rest now in the company of Americans throughout the nation’s history, worthy of our reflection on what they gave. Today we remember them, and we are grateful.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.