Memorial Day weekend has become the traditional summer kick-off. For most of us the long weekend is a time to gather together for barbeques, beach trips, and ballgames. These leisurely pursuits often ignore the fading sounds of Taps, the moment of silence, and the toasts to "Absent Friends" that reflect the true meaning of the day. Yet both solemnity and celebration are fitting tributes to the memories of those patriots who, for over two centuries, have paid the ultimate price in the defense of our way of life and values. We should celebrate their lives and the fact that the United States has been blessed with men and women who are willing to guard a post or stand the watch so that the rest of us can enjoy our lives in peace and tranquility. We should take a moment in the middle of our fun to remember them and say, "Thank you."
For those of us who have served, particularly those of us who served in wartime, Memorial Day will always be bittersweet. For us, when we see names, engraved on polished marble on monuments from the Mall to the town square in our little hamlets, we do not see cold, historical artifacts. We do not see tributes to martial glory. We do not see liberal or conservative, black or white, Christian or Jew, straight or gay. We see only the faces of our shipmates, hear the laughter of our classmates, listen to the shared fears, hopes and dreams of our buddies, and once again feel the terrible, painful loss of our brothers and sisters.
In "Saving Private Ryan," as the fictional Captain Miller lies dying, he tells Private Ryan to "Earn this," meaning to go on to live a life worthy of the sacrifice made on his behalf. We too are challenged to "Earn this." But unlike the movie, our actions must honor the real sacrifices made by those whom we remember on this holiday. Memorial Day provides for a renewal of the American spirit in all of us. We should make a renewed commitment to making the more perfect union envisioned by our Founders a reality. We must ensure that we take actions worthy of those who gave their lives for us, defending our great nation and its ideals. The belief in a land where everyone truly is equal, where we all enjoy the fruits of liberty, and each of us are treated with the dignity and respect due to all Americans, was worth dying for. For us who remain, it is also a dream worth fighting for.
One way to take action is to get involved in the fight to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Why? Because this law, mandating discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual patriots, harms our national security and promotes bigotry over liberty, freedom, equality and shared sacrifice, which are the true American values. This law corrodes the Core Values of our Armed Forces, denigrates the service of 1 million LGBT veterans, and devalues the service of the 65,000 who currently serve in silence, often in harm's way at the tip of the spear. And it mocks the sacrifice of the countless LGBT Americans who died in the defense of a country that they loved, fighting for rights often denied to them at home. Getting rid of such a law will advance liberty, equality and freedom; embrace all who would defend these ideals, treating each with the respect and dignity they deserve, and is worthy of our fallen heroes' sacrifice.
05-24-09 By Paula M. Neira, Lieutenant, United States Naval Reserve (1985-1991) |