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Memorial Day: Being thankful for those who came before you

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

As we approach the end of May, we start to look forward to the warmer months and everything that summer brings with its arrival every year. For most, this means more time outdoors: camping, grilling out, fishing, boating and going to the beach. 

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Capt. Robert Coogan official photo
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Capt. Coogan Bio
Capt. Robert Coogan official photo

The start of this “outdoor season” is often linked directly to Memorial Day, the first long weekend after we shed the parkas and rain gear. While it’s easy to think of Memorial Day as a weekend to get in as much play time as possible, it is just as important to remember what that holiday means to your fellow service members, their families, and our country.

As Sailors/Marines/Airmen/Soldiers, we often get thanked for our service. Any time you have to rush to pick up some milk after work and you are still in uniform, or if you want to eat off base for lunch, there is a good chance someone will want to recognize you for your commitment to our country. We know how to respond to these expressions of gratitude: a very polite nod and smile, a hand shake if offered, and a quiet “you’re welcome.”  On Memorial Day, however, it is our opportunity to look back at those who served and gave everything so that all Americans may continue to enjoy the freedoms we so dearly cherish.

It is not often that we think about the opportunities we have been given simply by living in this country or about the men and women who have lost their lives for our chance to be here today. When they teach American History in our schools, the thousands of American lives lost in wars one or two hundred years ago seems so far removed from our lives today that we forget they had mothers and fathers who grieved, wives and children left behind, and sisters and brothers that would follow in their footsteps.

With everything else going on, it can also be difficult to remember that our service members are still making the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in a safer world. Those who have lost friends or family to their duty know the pain and grief that every human feels with that intense loss. But alongside those feelings comes a sense of comfort and pride, knowing that their loved one was working to protect us and our country.

So this Memorial Day, please stop to remember the history and reason of the holiday. If you have the opportunity, volunteer at Arlington National Cemetery or take the family to one of the war memorials downtown. If you know a Gold Star family, reach out and ask if there is anything they need to make the day better.

Everyone wants to enjoy a good cookout with friends, and I highly encourage that as well, but as a member of the U.S. military, do not forget those who laid down their life to make Memorial Day and every day an opportunity to continue to form a more perfect union.