Since the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day has been a time to pause and remember those who died while serving in the Armed Forces with parades, visits to cemeteries and poppy flowers pinned on lapels.
Certainly we honor those who gave their lives in World War 2 and Vietnam. It’s also a time to remember the 6,440 men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001.
The Washington Post created the website, Faces of the Fallen, with information about each of those service members. A statistic that especially touches parents: almost half of those who died were aged 20-24. Their parents and other loved ones carry the grief of that loss for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps on Memorial Day this year we should also consider those veterans who returned home with injuries, both physical and mental. Because of advances in medical treatment on the battlefield and in hospitals, many more soldiers and Marines now survive their wounds than in previous conflicts. The numbers are astounding: among those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 47,000 have been injured and more than 320,000 have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Estimates are that post-traumatic stress condition impacts one in five veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.
Yes, we honor service members in mid-November on Veterans Day but Memorial Day is much more a national, symbolic holiday. So as we gather with friends and family at the beach, in parks or in the backyard, we should reach out to veterans and their families to offer support, friendship, and thanks for serving. Many of these vets deployed three, four or more times. Imagine not only what they went through with each deployment but the agony of their parents and other family members who didn’t know if their beloved son and daughter would return home safely.
For those who returned home with injuries, the war continues to take its toll on them and their families as well. The support of friends is critical to surviving the day-in, day-out road to recovery. So this Memorial Day, make a visit, pick up the phone, or send an email and try to connect with a veteran and his or her family in a true show of gratitude and support, especially to those living with the scars of war.