On July 4, 1776, 56 men gathered in a room in Philadelphia and put their signatures onto a document that formally began the American Revolution. It was almost 13 months after the Continental Army was founded (June 14, 1775) to fight the British. Today, we remember the countless American lives throughout history who not only fought for our freedoms but also in defense of them and our way of life.
In combing through columns written by better essayists than this author, I found this essay in the May 20 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal, written about Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“…a man who joined the U.S. Army out of high school, twice deployed to war, and who in July 2008 was the last man alive in an observation post named Topside, above the village of Wanat in the Hindu Kush mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. Wounded in the forehead, one arm and both legs, Sgt. Pitts defended that outpost with grenades and a machine gun until helicopter gunships could lay down supporting fire to clear the way for his rescue.”
Staff Sergeant Pitts was selected to give the commencement address at the University of New Hampshire. He spoke about courage and fear.
“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to move forward in the face of it. There is beauty in this definition, because courage can exist in the decisions we make every day. Courage exists in the individual who accepts who they are and openly lives the life they want in the face of rejection. Courage exists in those who challenge their own perceptions in the face of accepting they are not infallible. Be courageous and appreciate courage in others who take action in the face of fear.”
He closed by saying: “The last thought I will leave you with is more a matter of character. Never forget those who helped you reach where you are.”
Then he named the men who died that morning, eight on Topside and one in the village of Wanat: “ Sergio Abad, Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Brostrom, Israel Garcia, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt Rainey and Gunnar Zwilling.”
In our present day America, I would almost venture a guess that 75% of American high school teenagers would be unable to tell you what our nation’s highest award for valor is. I would also venture to guess that 75% of our college students have no clue either. But, they can probably name every character on the Game of Thrones.
Memorial Day 2015 is especially poignant for many given the news of the several days, mainly the fall of Ramadi, made even more so by the question du jour for the past two weeks as to whether we should have invaded. In a country where there is more column space given to what is wrong with the military (The New York Times gave 32 consecutive days of coverage to Abu Ghraib, while burying the story about another MOH winner, Cpl. Jason Dunham on page 3 of Section 3)1, there are still thousands of service members and their families who give selflessly, so that we may enjoy our Memorial Day celebrations in peace with families and friends, or however we wish to spend this day.
While we remember the fallen, it is those who serve, who say, “not on my watch” who keep us safe.
We must never forget that we are the land of the free because of “the brave.”
1 Peter Collier, “American Honor“, The Wall Street Journal