A Day to Honor Those That Have Given Their Lives in America’s Wars

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Blog written by: Garrett Cathcart; Team RWB Southeast Regional Director

Each year around Memorial Day I find that a lot of veterans and veteran supporters get pretty fired up when someone wishes them a “Happy Memorial Day” or “to have a great Memorial Day Weekend”. As a younger man fresh out of the Iraq and Afghan wars I would do the same. I felt anger and wanted everyone to recognize that it was about remembering those that were killed not a joyous occasion to be celebrated. People like my close friends Dave, Adam and Ian. My Soldiers Justin, James, Kris and Santos.  Andrew, the S1, who asked me if I knew what the Captain’s Career Course was and when I said no, that he was going to send me as a Lieutenant because it was “like a vacation where you get to drink bourbon in Kentucky and learn how to command a company.” The classmates and acquaintances are too many to count.

It is true there is a distinction between Veterans Day–a day to honor all those who have served in the military and Memorial Day–a day to honor those that have given their lives in America’s wars. Most American’s blur them together and see Memorial Day as another patriotic holiday meant for a day off work, backyard barbecues and beer–and it used to piss me off.

Used to. Time, distance and growth have given away to reflection.  No longer when someone thanks me for my service or tags me in a social media post on Memorial Day is my reaction, “uhh, thanks but I’m still alive if you haven’t noticed.” The question turned from “why don’t you know what Memorial Day is?” to “how do you really honor the fallen?”

A metal bracelet on your wrist? A tattoo? A scar on your heart? A wreath on a headstone? Its become clear over the years that it is intensely personal and no ones to question. For me, it has evolved into how I live my life. I try and pursue life of purpose, meaning and service to others. To be challenged, to help people, and to find opportunities to have an impact. Something in my bones knew that before I was ever aware of it. It’s why I was miserable in a corporate job in LA, and have never been happier than now working at Team RWB. The amazing thing is that I have discovered that I’m not the only one like this. Team RWB is literally led by thousands of volunteer leaders who have chosen to have purpose, to serve and to make impacts. Maybe its why I feel so at home here.

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I often think of one of the closing scenes in the film Saving Private Ryan, where Captain Miller played by Tom Hanks who in his dying breaths looks at Private Ryan and told him to “earn it” after so much life has been lost on his behalf.  I feel those same words were bestowed on me after the death of so many I have loved, and I try and earn it every day. It’s why I live life a little too fast, say yes a little too often and burn the midnight oil a little too long. There is too much to do, too much to see, too many to make an impact on, and only so much time to leave the community, the Country and the world in a little better shape than we found it.  They don’t have that chance. I do.

Some things you never forget–the bone jarring impact of a 500-pound IED or the adrenaline of a complex ambush. The feeling of picking up the leg of someone you love and putting it into a body bag. The rest fades and the edges aren’t as sharp anymore, but we must never forget that to honor the fallen is to help each other in whatever way that means to you and to live and enjoy this life. That we must not let the past define us, but to let it shape us and inform us to live a life worthy of their sacrifice—to earn it.

No longer is Memorial Day a day that I observe filled with anger and solemnness, but one that is celebrated for the best men I have known. Today I will be at a barbecue and I will be drinking beer. Shiner Bock for Dave. I will be celebrating the lives of those who made it possible.  And I know for a fact that is where they would want me to be.