Opinion: Remember those who put country before self

David Landry from Scout Pack 417 places an Americain flag at one of the grave sites at the Marietta National Cemetery Saturday, May 25, 2019. Scouts placed an American flag at each of the 18,000 cemetery graves in advance of the Memorial Day commemorations. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

On Monday, May 25th, we will observe Memorial Day. This is a special day in our nation as we pause to reflect on the 1.3 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. We take this time to honor those men and women and remember what their sacrifice means to every citizen of the United States of America.

Memorial Day began in 1868 and was known as Decoration Day. The original purpose was to honor the fallen of the Civil War. Today, we honor those who have given their lives in all our wars to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States.

Throughout our history, Georgians have made significant contributions to our nation. Over 11,000 have laid down their lives since World War I. Last October, Master Sgt. Mark Allen of the Georgia National Guard was laid to rest. Master Sgt. Allen was the 43rd Georgia Guardsman to give his life since the beginning of the Global War on Terror. The Memorial Wall at the Georgia National Guard headquarters serves as a lasting reminder of our comrades who fell while serving in the Georgia National Guard. These heroes leave behind more than 80 children and grandchildren along with nearly 100 parents and step-parents. Many people remember these brave men and women on special occasions like Memorial Day. It is important to note that their families, friends, and communities live with their memory of these warriors every day.

In spite of the risks, there are those who continue to volunteer in service to our great nation. Serving in our armed forces is the epitome of selfless service but statistics show that less than 1% of the population actually serve. Approximately 14,000 men and women currently serve in the Georgia National Guard. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Georgia Guardsmen have been deployed continually somewhere around the globe. During the past year, the Georgia National Guard deployed over 2,000 Soldiers and Airmen on overseas missions to preserve our liberties here at home. At this very moment, members of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 248th Area Support Medical Company and Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing are deployed overseas conducting contingency operations. Additionally, over 3,000 Georgia Guardsmen have been actively fighting the unseen enemy of COVID-19 right here at home.

Memorial Day also serves as a reminder that we must continue to remember our Gold Star families not only on this day but throughout the year. Gold Star families are those who have lost an immediate family member in military service. I recommend that you consider reaching out to a Gold Star family member to thank them for their service and sacrifice and thus reminding them that the loss of their loved one will never be forgotten.

Understandably, the number of ceremonies will be down significantly this year due to our current public health crisis. Perhaps this year, it is more important than ever to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation. However you decide to observe Memorial Day, it is my hope that you will find an appropriate way to acknowledge that our freedom was paid for at a high cost by those who put country before self.

Maj. Gen. Tom Carden is Georgia’s Adjutant General.

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