Between the cookouts and the ballgames, it's important to remember what Memorial Day is actually about, to honor the example of the men and women who gave their lives for their country in the nation's wars. The wounds to the hearts of those they left behind are fresh, too, and forever will be fresh. The nation must not forget them, either.
Over the past year, according to Military Times, 99 Americans died of wounds suffered in the service of our country. The youngest, Pvt. Errol Milliard, was only 18 when a rocket-propelled grenade attack took his life in Afghanistan on July 4. He was called Elijah by his family and friends. He graduated from high school barely a year before his death, and his Twitter account is still lively with comments about his senior year of high school and talk of his favorite basketball teams and superhero movies.
At 52, Air Force Master Sgt. David L. Poirier was the oldest American to give up his life in military service during the year. Sgt. Poirier died in Qatar in February, serving his sixth overseas tour of duty. He left behind his wife, three children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.
Five women in arms died in 2013. One was Capt. Jennifer Moreno, an Army nurse from California who received the Bronze Star posthumously for running into a booby-trapped bomb-making compound west of Kandahar, Afghanistan, to assist soldiers felled by a suicide bomber. She was killed by an improvised explosive that exploded as she was giving aid and comfort to the wounded.
One of those was Army Sgt. Joe Peters, who was the first Criminal Investigation Command agent to die in combat. Sgt. Peters was serving his third deployment and died just two weeks before he was to return to his wife and 20-month-old son in Springfield, Mo.
The wearing of a silk poppy on a lapel or watching the bands march past in a Memorial Day parade is well and good. Placing flowers of remembrance on a grave is a fitting tribute. But the families of fallen heroes — and they are all heroes of the nation — need comfort, some need aid, and all deserve to be remembered in prayer.
Many of those left behind are young children, whose future is now uncertain. A number of charities have been established to care for them. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and Operation Family Fund provide financial assistance to these families. Scholarships are available to the children through Freedom Alliance and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.
The Scriptures tell us that no greater love hath any man than to lay down his life for a friend. There is no greater responsibility than to pay the debt to the families of the slain. This is the true meaning of Memorial Day in this year and all other years.