Memorial Day 2016

  • Published
  • By Col. Doug Schiess
  • 21st Space Wing commander

In my first Commander’s Call I talked about how we are all a part of an organization, a family really, where we all would lay down our life to protect each other. The spirit of that statement embodies the spirit of Memorial Day: the sacrifice of individual life for the benefit of fellow citizens and brothers and sisters in arms. Every day I am amazed at the number of service members I meet who share that same mentality of putting service before self if called upon.

The stark solemnity of the magnitude of sacrifice made by those who gave all in service to country was impeccably articulated at the first official Memorial Day, known then as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. At Arlington National Cemetery the speaker was former major general, and future President James A. Garfield, who said:

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

In 138 words President Garfield captured the idea of individual sacrifice for a purpose and cause greater than oneself. His message is still as true today as it was nearly 150 years ago when 5,000 people honored thousands of soldiers. While we do not know them, we still owe a great debt now.
Memorial Day is held in remembrance of those who died in service of the U.S. military. Every single man and woman who paid the ultimate price protecting the freedom and liberty afforded to the citizens of this nation is duly remembered and honored each year.

It is easy to think of this day as one to honor these veterans as a group, but such great and selfless sacrifice demands individual recognition. While commemorating the names of each of these honorable Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines is not easily done, thoughts about individual sacrifice are certainly possible. On this Memorial Day, I remember two of the 21st Space Wing members who gave the ultimate sacrifice – Captain David Lyon and Airman 1st Class Matthew Seidler.

Many of you will gather with family and friends to enjoy time together, a barbecue, and a day off from work. But as the distinguished Knights of the 21st Space Wing, let’s all remember the sacrifices made by those who answered our nation’s call, and never take granted the amazing freedoms we enjoy every day. On Memorial Day, please take time to honor those whose service, “made immortal their patriotism and their virtue,” on this most cherished day.