Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. This is the time of year when the school calendar ends and thoughts turn to summer travel and outdoor activities. It may seem an odd juxtaposition that this time of year coincides with our nation’s annual day of remembrance to honor those who fell in service to our country in times of conflict.
Memorial Day offers a poignant reminder that our ability to enjoy a traditional summer activity was made possible by the selfless sacrifice borne by our nation’s fallen service members and the families they have left behind.
On Memorial Day, we honor more than 1.1 million fallen service members who gave all of their tomorrows for our today. The enormity of the debt we owe our fallen is difficult to fathom as large numbers tend to obscure the individual humanity of sacrifice. If one were to simply recite the names of all our fallen end to end, it would take nearly six weeks to complete this simple act of remembrance. Comprehending the full weight and meaning behind Memorial Day is next to impossible.
While Memorial Day is a federal holiday, our local observances often help us gain a better understanding of the price of freedom in terms we can measure, whether at commemorations in town parks or private family gatherings where the sense of loss is most acute. Every year our National Guard family gathers to honor, remember and grieve for our fallen and their families along with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
At the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta, there is a memorial wall honoring service members who fell while serving overseas with units of the Georgia National Guard. During our Memorial Day observance in 2020, our organization observed the solemn dedication of a plaque honoring Master Sgt. Mark Allen, the 43rd citizen-soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice since Sept. 11, 2001. This wall serves as an immediate reminder of the seriousness of our chosen profession. The men and women whose names and faces are forever enshrined are not distant statistics. They are brothers, sisters, parents and comrades who served shoulder to shoulder with other service members across the joint force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Years may pass, but their memory does not dim and their sacrifice serves as a constant reminder of all those who have paid the heavy price of freedom. It is a price that is borne by our service members and their families who constitute an ever-shrinking percentage of the population.
Today, fewer service members find themselves in harm’s way. Given that fact, it might become a little easier to forget that our service members continue to stand in the gap between freedom and tyranny every single day. As you read this, hundreds of Georgia National Guard servicemembers are deployed around the globe serving with thousands of service members from every branch and component of the United States military.
These men and women will pause this holiday to honor the fallen in their own way. I pray that we can all find time to do the same in the relative safety and comfort of our great nation.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr. is adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard.