Honoring the Fallen Heroes on This Memorial Day 2023
Since the Revolutionary War, countless Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Memorial Day, observed annually on May 29th, provides an opportunity for us to remember, honor, and mourn these brave individuals. While it is important to pay tribute to those who died in combat, it is equally crucial to expand our notion of whom we should honor on this solemn day. From foreign partners to veterans affected by toxic exposures and the psychological toll of war, we must recognize the diverse sacrifices made in the pursuit of freedom and peace.
Expanding the Scope: Remembering Foreign Partners
In recent conflicts, such as Vietnam, American service personnel have fought alongside and relied on local forces to achieve shared goals. It is essential to acknowledge the sacrifices made by these foreign partners who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops. Whether it was the South Vietnamese soldiers in Vietnam or the Iraqis and Afghans in more recent conflicts, their lives intertwined with those of their American counterparts. They too deserve recognition and honor on Memorial Day.
The Case of South Vietnamese Soldiers
During the Vietnam War, many American troops formed deep bonds with South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs) who fought alongside them. These brave individuals, with their own hopes and aspirations, stood side by side with Americans, often trusting each other with their lives. The approximate death toll of almost 300,000 ARVNs highlights the scale of their sacrifice. Remembering and honoring them on Memorial Day is a testament to the enduring bonds forged in times of war.
While the bonds between the United States and Ukraine differ from those forged in direct combat, they are no less significant. Ukraine stands as a bulwark against despotic regimes and serves the vital national interests of the United States, NATO, and allies worldwide. The Ukrainian people, who have faced unimaginable suffering at the hands of Russian forces, deserve remembrance and respect. Memorial Day is an appropriate occasion to include them in our reflections, as their fight aligns with the principles our founding fathers fought for.
Recognizing Long-Term Health Consequences
Memorial Day should also prompt us to consider the long-term health consequences endured by veterans. Beyond immediate combat casualties, many veterans have faced prolonged health issues stemming from toxic exposures, such as Agent Orange. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, while inscribing the names of those who died within 120 days of combat or supporting roles, cannot capture the full extent of the suffering experienced by veterans who succumbed to the long-term effects of exposure. Comprehensive healthcare programs and increased support for veterans affected by toxic exposures are essential in recognizing their sacrifices.
Acknowledging Psychological and Spiritual Wounds
The toll of war extends beyond physical injuries. Many who experience war carry psychological and spiritual scars that can lead to substance abuse, reckless behavior, and homelessness. While these individuals may not have been killed in action, their deaths are influenced by the effects of war. Their families, grieving the loss of loved ones, endure profound pain. By acknowledging and remembering their sacrifice on Memorial Day, we honor the less visible but equally significant wounds borne by those affected by the psychological and spiritual toll of war.
A Continuing Journey of Remembrance and Respect
Efforts to expand our understanding of whom we honor on Memorial Day have made progress, but there is still much to be done. Congress’s initiatives to address long-term health consequences and broaden benefits for veterans and their families are steps in the right direction. However, a comprehensive and empathetic approach is necessary to truly honor the fallen. As Memorial Day approaches, let us remember and honor all those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country, regardless of the nature of their sacrifice or their country of origin.
The verse inscribed on the commission’s World War I Memorial reads:
“They say: We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.”
Indeed, it is up to us, the living, to give meaning to the sacrifices made by those who died in service to our country. Memorial Day is a solemn reminder of the price of freedom and a time to honor all those who have paid that price.
As we remember the fallen, it is important to recognize that the scope of those we honor extends beyond the traditional boundaries. Memorial Day is not just about commemorating American service members who died in combat; it is also about acknowledging the sacrifices of our foreign partners and those who have suffered the long-term consequences of war.
In recent conflicts, such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, American service personnel have fought alongside local forces, forming bonds and shared experiences. The loss of local troops who fought side by side with Americans should also be remembered and honored. Just as I cannot think of America’s fallen without thinking of the South Vietnamese soldiers I served with, many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same way about their foreign partners.
Ukraine is another example of a nation where brave individuals are fighting for the values we hold dear. They are on the frontlines, defending freedom and democracy against despotic regimes. Their sacrifice, though not directly tied to American military operations, is interconnected with our fight against tyranny. The Ukrainians who have lost their lives deserve our remembrance and respect.
Expanding our understanding of whom we honor on Memorial Day is a crucial step toward inclusivity and recognizing the diverse experiences of those affected by war. From the women who decorated the graves of Union soldiers alongside Confederate soldiers after the Civil War to the Army nurses who lost their lives during World War I, there are countless individuals whose contributions and sacrifices deserve recognition.
We must also consider the long-term consequences of war beyond the battlefield. The exposure to toxic substances, both in Vietnam and in other conflicts, has led to health issues and premature deaths among veterans. The psychological and spiritual trauma endured by those who have experienced war cannot be overlooked either. Their wounds may not be visible, but they are just as significant.
As we commemorate Memorial Day, let us remember that the sacrifice of our service members was not in vain. Their memories should be cherished, and their graves should be a testament to the values they fought for. It is our responsibility to give meaning to their deaths by upholding those values and working towards a world where peace and freedom prevail.
So, on this Memorial Day, as we pay tribute to the brave men and women who have laid down their lives, let us expand our understanding of whom we honor and how we remember. Let us honor the fallen, our foreign partners, and all those affected by war. Let us ensure that their sacrifices are never forgotten, and let us strive to build a world where their sacrifice was truly meaningful.