MEMORIAL DAY – May 27, 2013
As Memorial Day 2013 approaches, as our fellow Americans are making plans to have cook-outs, enjoy the outdoors, and spend precious time with their loved ones, I believe we should remember that the reason we are able to enjoy these moments is because of the military service members who have given “the last full measure of devotion” in the service of our great Nation. From the American Revolution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, brave young men and women have always answered the call to fight for our country and for our freedom. They have made many sacrifices, and as we remember in particular those who have fallen, I am inspired by their courage and dedication to freedom. The death of each one of these servicemen and women represents not only a tragic loss to their loved ones, but to their community and to the country.
This Memorial Day should be observed as a time for all Americans to reconnect with our history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish. In addition to remembering the service members who have fought and died in our Nation’s wars, I believe that we must also take care of the service members and veterans who are still with us. There are, regrettably, serious issues that still need to be addressed with regard to our military and veteran communities. Active-duty military and veteran suicides are at record rates, Veterans Administration disability claims continue to be severely delayed, programs that assist discharged service members transition to civilian life are still inadequate, and many of our service members and veterans still lack the healthcare they need – and are entitled to – after a decade of war. I believe that we in the Congress must do everything we can do to remedy these problems. As George Washington famously said “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.” I believe this statement has added weight and meaning and truth with our Nation’s movement to an all-volunteer military after the Vietnam War.
With fewer that 1 percent of our Nation’s population on active military duty, the gap between those who have served in uniform and those who have not has never been greater. These differences in life experiences have led to misguided perceptions of how each group views the other. The widening of this “civilian-military gap” makes it less likely that our service members and veterans will properly reintegrate back into our society, and less likely that our best and brightest will pursue military service. As a society, we must address the problem. If we can’t care for the servicemen and woman and their families who have made so many sacrifices on our behalf, then holidays like Memorial Day end up having little relevance. One veteran I recently met with said to me, “I fought proudly for my country in Afghanistan, but when I came back I didn’t feel like I came back. I’m still waiting to feel like I came back.” No American who has worn the uniform of this country should have to feel this way.
Memorial Day is a day that we Americans hold close to our hearts because in the sometimes hectic pace of our daily lives, we can forget just how fortunate we are. Memorial Day reminds us. Throughout this holiday weekend we will see many American flags and flowers adorning the graves of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation. I will especially remember in my thoughts and prayers the 127 Marylanders who have been killed in our most recent conflicts, and I will remind myself that our freedom isn’t free. And I will remember that the best way to honor their ultimate sacrifice is to ensure that we are unwavering in our support to care for those who do return to us wounded, ill, and injured. This Memorial Day, let us affirm our commitment to those who have returned from the fields of battle as the best way to honor their fallen comrades.