Eight years ago, my son Corporal George A. “Tony” Lutz II was patrolling the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, as part of the Psychological Operations 9th Battalion out of Fort Bragg. Tony joined the Army because he felt it was important to get involved and make a difference by serving his country. He had a wife and two children and an extended family that loved and supported him. The sniper who took his life didn’t care about any of that.
In the months that followed Tony’s funeral, I visited other families who had lost loved ones in the Iraq war. I began to sense that I had joined the ranks of a unique fellowship. These families were only the latest additions to a group that originated with the American Revolution, when the first soldiers to shed their blood for our freedom gave their lives.
On May 5, 1868, Memorial Day was officially established by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30. In 1971, Congress designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. Over the years, Memorial Day has also become synonymous with the start of the summer vacation season and a three-day weekend devoted to shopping, family gatherings, trips to the beach and fireworks.
While memorial services with wreaths, speeches and bands are typical elements of the Memorial Day weekend, the day designated to honor our fallen seems to have been swallowed by commercial and recreational pursuits. For the families who have endured the loss of a loved one to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, Memorial Day can be a hollow observance that seems to be more about cooking hot dogs than commemorating heroes.
Over the years, I have seen entire campaigns dedicated to encouraging Americans to commemorate Memorial Day for just one minute, yet I have also seen entire months dedicated to one specific cause or another. I believe the reason we dedicate an entire month to some causes is the magnitude of the number of lives affected by that cause. That’s why we should do more than set one day a year aside to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed services who have given their lives for America and to recognize the life-changing loss experienced by their families. Memorial Day is an important holiday, but the Gold Star Families (families of the fallen), deserve more recognition than a day that has become for many just an extra day off from work for shopping and having a barbecue.
I am encouraging patriots and Honor and Remember supporters in every state with the help of families, friends and neighbors to take part in a special emphasis for the month of May that we are calling Honor and Remember May (Month). Our campaign theme for the month is “Honor Your Hometown Hero.” The campaign that will call on local media to identify fallen heroes by city and state and publish stories about their military service and their families, who must cope with the loss of their loved one. Another aspect of the month-long observance will invite local businesses, organizations and schools to participate by creating a display of photos and other information about the fallen heroes from their town or neighborhood.
I’d like to see every business, civic groups, media outlet and neighborhood do something special every day of the month to pay tribute to the men and women who gave all in defense of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. This is a real opportunity for everyone to make a positive statement about the cost of liberty. Ideas for “Honor and Remember May” include:
* Asking businesses to download pictures and a bio of local heroes and posting them in the windows or on the walls of their business;
* Gold Star Families or friends can send stories about their lost loved ones to local media;
* Schools can ask students to write stories and draw pictures about their local hometown heroes.
* Notices can be posted in company newsletters, radio and community bulletin boards,
* Television and radio stations can profile a different hero each day.
* Everyone with a flagpole can fly the Honor and Remember Flag.
* Churches, sports teams, organizations and special events can all honor a hero in many specific ways.
* Arrange to have your local government read into the municipal record the names of the fallen in your area.
* Encourage public service announcements on local cable stations.
* Print out a list of fallen heroes from internet and post their names on social networking pages you may have, encourage friends and families as well
In Virginia, the home of the organization’s headquarters, Honor and Remember Month will include “Virginia Run for the Fallen,” an annual event that will feature a team of 25 active duty military personnel from bases throughout Virginia who will complete a 236-mile journey to honor every Virginia service member who died as a result of serving during the War on Terror. Each mile of the route, which stretches from Fort Story in Virginia Beach to Arlington National Cemetery, will include a brief stop at a “hero marker” to pay individual tribute to family members, friends and comrades of the fallen. Each hero marker tribute will include a biographical description of a hero along with Honor and Remember Flags.
Individuals who wish to organize Honor and Remember May (Month) events and observances in their state should put together a profile of those heroes in their communities who have died as a result of serving in the United States Armed Forces. They can then send that information to their local newspaper, radio and television outlets along with a brief explanation of Honor and Remember Month. Likewise, they can approach local businesses with their information and ask them to create a “Display of Heroes” in support of Honor and Remember Month. Local governments, civic organizations, sports teams and other organizations can also be asked to participate.
Local news media can be asked to put out a call for Gold Star Families to contact them with their stories. Gold Star Families from many generations are all around us,. Local service organizations, such as the VFW and the American Legion, may have information about local families of the fallen. Make sure they know about Honor and Remember Month of May.
This is an important effort to give recognition to families who have given so much to America. Let’s all make a special effort to make the first annual Honor and Remember May (Month) memorable and significant. Join us in creating a tradition that leads us to remember the reason Memorial Day was established and raises the level of awareness for every fallen hero and their families.