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  • By Lt. Tim McMillan

Honoring The Fallen- What We Need To Consider This Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the day in America that we honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the nation’s armed forces. For many people, this day is thought of as a holiday, thanks largely in part to its formal designation as such by Federal Government in 1967. However, Memorial Day is not supposed to be about furniture sales, backyard cookouts, beaches, or three-day weekends off from work. Memorial Day actually represents the day in which Americans are supposed to remember and pay their respects to the more than 1 million U.S. service members who have died while serving their country.

In America, a country that is still in the middle of a 15-year war against terror, there are a great number of Americans who do not consider this a happy day, much less a holiday. Presently, 6,867 U.S. service members have lost their lives in the Global War on Terror than began in 2001. The number of members of the American military that have given their lives in the fight against terrorism is currently almost as many as those lost during the Revolutionary War and The War of 1812 combined.

It has been 72 years since the end of World War II. For many Americans, the emotional scars of the 405,399 service members who lost their lives during World War II have all but faded. However, for the families, friends, and fellow service members, the 102,513 individuals who gave their lives for America in the last 64 years, the emotions are still vividly painful. For many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, family and friends, today is anything but a holiday.

We should never take for granted the fact that many of our service members throughout our 241-year history have had to answer the call of duty for their country without a choice. They did so, for all of us, so that we may have a choice in our future. Lest we forget all of the past and present service members who also made a choice to serve in the military. Their reasoning is equally as significant. Because again, they do so to allow us to have a choice for our future. Ultimately, they all did so, with courage knowing that Memorial Day could become a day of remembrance for them as well.

The service member doesn’t choose war. War chooses them. The sacrifice they make is for all of us. They serve in the role as America’s defenders when we as human beings decide to choose war. All of the politics, protest, and decisions that are involved with a war has nothing to do with the men and women who actually do the fighting. The opinions of our service members are irrelevant. Rather, they choose to fight, in hopes that others with do not have too.

So how do we truly honor those who have given their lives for the rest of us? In total, 1.3 million men and women who never returned from the battlefield. Do we truly honor their sacrifice, and the suffering of their loved ones, by paying our respects one day out of the year? Or is there another way, that we can honor their deaths, every single day of our own lives?

Indeed, there is a way we can honor these brave men and women, and it is something that is imperative for us to consider. We should all take a moment to think about the fact that in the trenches of the battlefield, parade grounds of military bases, or in the chaos of warfare, our veterans of the armed forces have always been better than the rest of us. See, the military is better than us because they realized long before we have, what is the key to being successful. The military has known that the key to successful is the ability and willingness to put aside our differences to come together as a collective to achieve success.

In King Phillip’s War in 1675 Blacks and Whites fought shoulder to shoulder together in the North American Colonies. The same integrated combat units fought together in the American Revolution and The War of 1812. Over 180,000 black soldiers fought with the Union Army during the civil war. Unfortunately, America’s prejudice side would rear its ugly head, and in World War I and World War II African Americans served in segregated units.

However, the military has always been quicker learners that the rest of us; and in 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, General Dwight D. Eisenhower integrated his forces and once again minorities and White soldiers fought unified as one. Gen. Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Walter Smith publically said he was outraged and that the American public would be offended by integrated military units. Gen. Eisenhower told Gen. Smith to shove it.

Ultimately, on Jan 7, 1945, the American Army and the Allies defeated Germany in the Battle of the Bulge. Winston Churchill said, “Undoubtedly this was the greatest American battle of the war and will be regarded as an ever-famous American victory."

In 1948 President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 ordering the integration of all of the American Armed Forces. Of course, racist pundits and politicians tried to stonewall this order. It is important to note that none of those people fighting integration of the military were in the military or were they ever even under any threat of serving. They were just racists in business suits who had elected positions. Thankfully on July 26, 1951, the U.S. military was fully integrated as a result of Truman’s Executive Order, as it has remained that way ever since.

Since, that day in 1951, service members have worked and served alongside each other in peacetime:

Three years before Brown vs. Board of Education desegregated schools in America.

Thirteen years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Bill of 1968.

In 1864, during the Civil War, African American service members achieved the right to have equal pay as their white counterparts by congressional decree. This was thanks largely in part to the overwhelming reports to Congress by Union commanders that “Black men make good soldiers, who are highly motivated, obey their orders, rarely desert and do not get drunk like white soldiers.” This action was a clean 99 years before the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

Even today, our service members, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or even innate intelligence all have equal opportunity. Someone who is an E-4 in the Army as a Plumber (12k) who needs a minimum ASVAB score of 90, is equal to an E-4 Satellite Coms Operator (31S) who needs a minimum ASVAB score of 120. They serve and work to support the same mission. Each is as important to the other in order for success.

So on this Memorial Day, take a moment to think about that. Think about what exactly those 1.3 million service members who gave their life to America are really saying to us now. In some way shape or form, the military has known that to be successful, unity amongst people was necessary. It is because of that; I say the military have been and are better than the rest of us.

As I said earlier, we have a choice. We can choose a better future for ourselves thanks to our military veterans and the sacrifices they have made for us. So to honor our armed forces service members who died for all of us, why don’t we decide to be more like them. Why don’t we choose to do exactly what they’ve been doing to be successful this whole time? Why don’t we choose to make our future better for all of us in their honor and out of respect for their scarifies?

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