Reflections on Remembering

Honor and Remember Dispatch – August 2012

You may think the timing on this message is a bit odd, but I have purposely waited to send it for the reason I hope will make sense as you read further.  As we work our way through the remaining month of summer, I can’t help but think about the wonderful times I spent with my family in summers past. For us, summer was a time of swim team, baseball, camping and vacations. My children enjoyed the freedom that came with the summer recess from school. Memorial Day was always an important point on the calendar because it meant the start of summer vacation was not far off, another day off to sleep, another excuse to eat. I believe I was a typical everyday American.

Memorial Day means something quite different to me now. Besides birthdays and anniversaries, it may be the hardest day of the year. When my oldest son Tony was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq on December 29, 2005, he was a young husband and father with his whole life ahead of him. During the months afterward, I searched for the appreciation and recognition of a grateful nation. Sadly, nothing existed than anyone could use to make a positive statement and even Memorial Day was not used as intended. It had simply become another patriotic holiday.  To the Gold Star families of our fallen, every day is Memorial Day, and if that day is not a widely observed time of remembrance, how can the day after or two months later be?

A few years after Tony’s death, I sought to fill that void in America’s consciousness by creating the Honor and Remember Flag and launching an organization in order to provide a way for Americans to consistently pay tribute to our fallen heroes from every generation more than once a year. Each Memorial Day since then I have participated in a ceremony somewhere in America where our military fallen were saluted as a group. However, Memorial Day always leaves me feeling emotionally drained and dissatisfied, because the general focus is never on the fallen, but patriotism overall. Unless I am participating with the military or the veterans, I have never publicly heard one name mentioned of the close to 400 military casualties that have occurred just over the last 12 months, on a day set aside for that very purpose.

Of course, it is important to set aside at least one day to recognize the sacrifice that men and women in our military have made to preserve the freedoms we cherish. But we must take advantage of it. For many Americans, Memorial Day is just a day off from work and school … a day for barbecues and sales at the mall. For families who have not lost a loved one in military service, honoring and remembering the fallen may not happen at all. In fact, one recent survey revealed that 80 percent of those polled didn’t know what Memorial Day is about.

Death is a discomforting subject for most of us to contemplate or talk about. But when there is a knock on your door one day and you learn that you will never see a child, spouse or parent again because he or she has died in service to America, death takes on a new role in your life. It occupies an empty chair at the holiday table. It hovers over family celebrations. It intrudes on your dreams many years after your loved one has been gone. It has a hold on your life every day.

Gold Star Family members are all around us, but for the most part you have no idea who they are. They don’t wear a uniform, an organization hat or a medal. They generally have no connection to the military or associated activities. They go unseen and unnoticed because they are lost in a blend of Americans. Yet they drive by your house or business every day. If they don’t want you to find them, you never will. So how can you thank them, appreciate them or love them for what they have sacrificed? The precious life that has been taken from them cannot be replaced. But those families can receive the open recognition they deserve beyond solemn words spoken on Memorial Day.

A silent message can be spoken and that life can be celebrated with a tangible symbol that reminds us that Americans have fought many battles to preserve our way of life. And those conflicts have cost us much. The Honor and Remember organization and the Honor and Remember Flag were created to pay tribute to the individuals who died and provide a visible “Thank You” to those who must go on without them.

Labor Day is coming up. For most of us, it’s another holiday that means a day off from work, rather than a day to honor the working men and women of our nation. It’s an unfortunate truth that most of our holidays have lost their original meaning for many. Thanksgiving means a big dinner and college football games. Christmas means lots of gifts. And so, Memorial Day will remain for many just a day for cookouts.

But the Honor and Remember Flag and the Honor and Remember mission will always be about giving recognition and thanks to the families of each man and woman who bled and died so that our nation would remain strong … the land of the free because of the brave.

Can we take back Memorial Day? Possibly, However, together we can display silent words of thanks louder than thunder.  Fly the Honor and Remember Flag and join us in this tribute to all our heroes and the Gold Star families that produced them!

Blessings, George