Memorial day is observed each year on the last Monday in May to honor the men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. Originally called Decoration Day, it was first observed by various towns and states after the Civil War. In 1971 it was officially declared a federal holiday.
This Memorial Day weekend, my son, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, will be in Ohio, with friends he hasn’t seen since he left Iraq in 2009. They were all members of the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, one of the most highly decorated and respected squadrons in the United States Air Force, these soldiers volunteered to work side by side with the Army providing security in the most dangerous areas in Iraq. My son’s unit only lost one member in Iraq, 1st Lt. Joseph Helton. Everyone else made it home safely.
This weekend, they will be in Ohio to bury one of the soldiers who had made it home, Daniel Braun. Last week Daniel lost his battle with PTSD. He was 27. I don’t know Daniel, or his family but I know his story because it is the story that my family has lived since my son returned home from one battle, only to fight battles none of us expected. Today he fights the battle to reclaim his life, and his health, and to receive the help promised him by the very organization he voluntarily dedicated his life to.
As I wrote last November, for Veteran’s Day, this is the type of holiday that many Americans don’t give a lot of thought to. You might go to a parade, or maybe have a cook out on your extra day off, but the meaning of the day goes unnoticed by many, unless of course you served in the military, lost someone to war, or are part of a military family. This year, I’d like to challenge you to take a moment and really reflect what this day means, not only to those affected deeply by military service, but to all of us, as humans and as Americans. Let’s look at what we know now. Let’s look at what we’ve learned.
We know there were no weapons of mass destruction, none. We also know that Halliburton made over $39.5 billion on military contracts in the last decade. Let us not forget these things when faced with our next decision to enter a war.
We know that as of this month, close to 6,500 soldiers have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. These were men and women with bright futures, the best of the best, dedicated, intelligent and motivated. They have been lost to their families, and lost to this country, forever.
It is now estimated that the cost of these wars could hit $6 trillion. We know that roughly 50% of returning soldiers have been treated by the VA and qualify for disability payments, for the rest of their lives, ensuring that the total cost of the war including their disability payments, medical expenses and loss to the workforce of this country, will continue to affect our economy well into the next generation.
We know that thousands of Iraqi citizens have been displaced by war and that their homes, their educations, their economic futures will remain uncertain for years to come. While solid numbers are hard to come by and vary by source, we know for certain that tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan civilians have died in the conflict, many caught in a war zone, and many women and children falling victim to car bombs and suicide bombs, specifically targeted by their own people as a regular tactic of war.
We know our soldiers are fighting both mental and physical health problems since returning and we know that the system that is supposed to be taking care of them is broken, very, very broken. We know that soldiers are fighting for their benefits, for their healthcare. We know that they are often denied, turned away, or lost in piles of paperwork.
We know that our sons and daughters and partners and parents who survived this war, who came home to us, are now killing themselves at a rate faster than they died in the actual war. We know that 22 veterans a day are choosing, after having survived war, to take their own lives, leaving behind the families they spent their deployments longing to come home to. We know that many others are dying as the result of alcohol, drugs and car accidents.
I can keep citing examples and quoting numbers to you but you know. We all know. They are unemployed, or under-employed, or unable to keep a job once they find one. They are abusing substances. Men and women who had no criminal records prior to exemplary military service are finding themselves in trouble with the law. They are homeless. They are suffering. We know for certain that they are suffering and because of that suffering they are choosing to take their own lives, over and over again, every single day!
Every single one of those men and women needs to be remembered this Memorial Day. While they did not die in a war zone, each one of them gave their lives for this country, for a cause they believed in. Each one of them is a casualty of war.
I’d like you to remember this weekend that whether you agree or disagree with the service our soldiers performed, each one of them believed deeply in their duty to do their part. They believed so strongly in this country, in our freedoms and in the ability of our government to bring those freedoms to others around the world that they signed away their very lives. Above all else, whatever your political beliefs, this type of dedication and commitment at one’s own personal expense needs to be respected.
This Memorial Day I’d like you to remember not only the soldiers who died in war, but those who have died since returning home. I’d like you to remember these things when you talk to your representatives. I’d like you to remember these things when you are in a voting booth. I’d like you to remember them when you are given the opportunity to hire a veteran, to provide services to them or to donate to veteran’s causes.
I’d like you to remember what another young friend of mine who is also a combat vet said on his Facebook page this week, because its so important. He said “Yesterday a close friend lost one of his brothers to the downward spiral that is PTSD. Chances are you know someone who’s a veteran, someone who may be experiencing the same difficulties. Don’t thank them for their service or try to shake their hand just be their friend and remind them that there is some good in this world so they will stay in it.”
I’d like you to remember Sgt. Daniel Braun and his family this weekend.
If you are a veteran struggling right now, I’d like you remember that there are those of us who do care, that there really is good in the world, and if you hang on long enough, you’ll find it. Please don’t give up yet, we aren’t giving up on you.
If you are a veteran in crisis, or the family member of a veteran in crisis, please call the Veteran’s Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255.