On the last Monday in May, Americans have, for the last 144 years, dedicated this day to the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country – who gave their life in service to each of us. This year presents a unique opportunity; this year will be devoid of the parades, ceremonies, and other gatherings that typically mark this solemn day and so most of us will mark this day in our homes in the company of our close friends, and family. President Kennedy once said “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them” and it is in that spirit why I believe this year is an opportunity.
Our job as citizens of this great nation is to not only remember those who fell in places either well known or long forgotten, but to embrace our persistent march forward – in our thoughts, words, and most importantly our deeds. At the end of “Saving Private Ryan” a dying John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) whispers to Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) two words – “Earn this.” The scene fades to an aged Ryan standing in front of Millers grave. Surrounded my his children and grandchildren, a tearful Ryan looks at his wife and asks her “Tell me I’m a good man.” The moving scene is a moment of reckoning for Ryan now questioning whether he did enough to be worthy of the sacrifices made by the men charged with saving him.
Our Veterans, Military, and Gold Star families intimately understand the cost of freedom, but each of us has an obligation to make their sacrifice matter. Like many Veterans, on my right wrist I wear a small bracelet. Inscribed on that bracelet are the names of over 25 young men and women who gave their life in defense of our country. Serving beside these heroes was the greatest honor and so I wear their names on my wrist so that every time I shake a hand, every time I salute, every time I take a bit of food or wipe away sweat, I see them and that is all the inspiration I need to try a little harder, work a little faster, – be a little nicer.
It’s fitting that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and that in some way each of us if forced into a moment of reckoning just like Ryan. This year we have an opportunity to ask ourselves “have we earned this” are we Americans worthy of their sacrifice – and if the answer is no – more than ever we need to take action and ensure their sacrifices matter.
Sr. Director of Development
Easterseals NH, VT, ME