I am humbled anytime I have the opportunity to pay homage to our fellow Americans who gave their lives in defense of our nation. Memorial Day is the opportune time for such reflection even when we grapple with the pandemic that has affected all of us. It is a time to pause and reflect. It is a time to honor our fallen heroes and no matter where they lie, grandiose settings or those less auspicious, in communities across our country, or around the world close to where they perished, each marker is a testament to self-sacrifice.
Beginning in the Revolutionary War, through the great conflicts in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and to this day, thousands of Americans have died in brutal battle, often far from home, in burning deserts, turbulent seas, and freezing forests. Since the birth of our nation, Americans have put themselves in harm’s way to defend their nation, with many never to return.
The Memorial Day tradition was born out of the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, a conflict of such bitter dispute it cost more than 600,000 lives. The Civil War demonstrated the severe consequences of where stark differences can take our nation. Memorial Day, originally named Decoration Day, helped heal the wounds of this conflict. Americans in various communities could come together in their shared desire to honor their heroes. Normally, it brings us together in mutual purpose, and I miss the wonderful community gathering in Coupeville last year in which I spoke of personal loss that I have endured throughout my career as I remember those friends and shipmates who we have lost. While we cannot gather this year, we can stop, reflect and honor those who paid the ultimate price for all of us and in our own ways.
We should also understand that Memorial Day is far more personal to some of our fellow citizens. Memorial Day is every day for many families, particularly for those who can still hear the voices of loved ones who fell defending our nation. These are our Gold Star families; we stand by them and support them in their loss and we honor them every day.
President Harry S Truman said, “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service to our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” This is a day we reveal ourselves by those we remember and honor; those whose lives were taken while they were serving their nation. On Memorial Day, we can always try to put our differences aside and come together, in person or virtually, to honor the sacrifices of those who fought to preserve our nation.
By remembering and honoring the lives and actions of those who perished in our nation’s defense, as well as their families, we reveal the greatest attributes of a people and as a Nation. We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to future generations who will still benefit from their sacrifices.
• Navy Capt. Matt Arny is commanding officer for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.