In some circles, patriotism has become a synonym for arrogant or jingoistic. Some people even use it as a political weapon; “Don’t question my patriotism,” they say. Yet, this Memorial Day, and every other day for that matter, we should remember that those who died for this country are the true patriots.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called Memorial Day, “our most respected holiday,” and urged that “we not ponder with sad thoughts the passing of our heroes but rather ponder their legacy – the life they made possible for us by their commitment and pain.”
At its core, Memorial Day has always commemorated the universal all-encompassing understanding of, “No greater love than this does any man have, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
President Lincoln put their sacrifice into perspective at the battlefield in Gettysburg when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
After the terrorists struck us on 9/11, America was changed. Our all volunteer force responded. People with comfortable jobs left their towns and deployed with their Reserve and Guard units. Some even joined the active-duty forces. The existing military responded in its typical heroic fashion, overthrowing a tyrannical regime in Afghanistan and battling ruthless insurgents in Iraq. Thousands gave their lives.
The call to freedom came and they answered. Just as their predecessors in the two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada, and the Persian Gulf, the War on Terrorism is being won by ordinary Americans making extraordinary sacrifices.
One such man was Marine Cpl. Travis Braddack-Nail of Portland, Ore. He played the drums, loved punk rock and drove his mother crazy with his tattoos. Although he hoped to attend college, he extended his stay in Iraq to help his platoon. “The platoon wasn’t surprised by his decision. He would always step in and take his spot,” a Marine buddy recalled.
Travis was killed two months later in an explosion during a mine-clearing operation near Karbala. We owe Travis, and the men and women like him, our unending respect and gratitude.
The Preamble to The American Legion’s Constitution states in part, “to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars.” On Memorial Day, we call on all Americans to do this.
Memorial Day is not about trips to the beach or sporting events. It’s not about politics. It’s about people who have decided that the United States is worth dying for. It’s about patriots.
David K. Rehbein, of Ames, Iowa, is national commander of the 2.6 million-member American Legion, www.legion.org, the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization.