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Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably seen the Memorial Day meme posted, shared and tweeted across social media sites of a Marine amputee visiting the grave of a fallen service member at Arlington National Cemetery. It reads "In case you thought it was National BBQ Day."
This Memorial Day will, most likely, include barbecues and friends, as well as a visit to see my brother, Pfc. Landon Giles.
My recent permanent change of station from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to Fort Benning allows me to make the short drive to Fort Stewart, Georgia, where I can enjoy the sun, the fresh air and the shade of the trees while my son, Azrael, and I tell Landon about what is going on in our lives.
Our meeting spot is Tree 61.
That is where the 3rd Infantry Division's Warriors Walk planted a tree for Landon. Next to him, in spot 60, stands the tree for his battle buddy, Pvt. Min S. Choi. Landon, an indirect fire Infantryman, and Choi served together in the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
On Feb. 26, 2005, they were together in the third vehicle of a multi-vehicle convoy as it patrolled in Abertha, Iraq, only a week after the two arrived in country. They were together when an improvised explosive device ripped through the vehicle. They were together when they gave their lives for our country.
Landon had turned 19 on Feb. 1, only three weeks prior to his death. Choi was 21.
I think it's no coincidence that their unit's motto is "Honor and Courage." They were, both, honorable and courageous in life and in death.
Landon is one of 468 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers who is represented by a tree at the division's sprawling Warriors Walk. He is one of 4,486 American service members who gave their life during operations in Iraq, according to the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen project. He is one of 6,805 service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, according to the project's most recent tally.
But, the act of remembering those lost in battle dates back much further than operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn and Enduring Freedom. It began as a day to do exactly what I intend to do - remember the fallen and decorate their graves.
According to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, under the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration, Memorial Day began three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, and was then referred to as Decoration Day. At that time, the head of an organization of Union veterans - the Grand Army of the Republic - established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.
After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars, according the Department of the Army's Center for Military History, and, in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. Some areas still refer to the day as "Decoration Day."
The U.S. Army Military History Institute estimates that more than 1.1 million Soldiers have given their lives to protect our freedoms since the start of the Civil War in 1861.
This Memorial Day, I urge you to take a moment to send a prayer, a thought, or even a wish to our fallen Freedom Fighters, to their Families who, also, have sacrificed for our nation and to those currently in harm's way in military operations around the world.
In a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31, 1982, President Ronald Reagan asked Americans to answer, perhaps, the greatest challenges of all - to sacrifice, endure and prosper.
"Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we - in a less final, less heroic way - be willing to give of ourselves."