As we gather this weekend with our families, perhaps roast a few hot dogs and lift a beer or two together, we should resist the temptation to make the long weekend simply an excuse to shop some sales and watch a bit more TV. Remember why we get an extra day off work. Remember the thousands of soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines spending this weekend patrolling the far-off and remote corners of our world. Remember the sacrifices of people like soldiers Sgt. Eugene M. Aguon and Spc. Dwayne W. Flores.
The two – who hailed from the island of Guam and were both in their early 20s – were the latest to be named in the Defense Department’s somber casualty reports, which still come out at a rate of one or two a week, more than a decade after we began the war in Afghanistan.
Flores and Aguon, were killed May 16 by a suicide bomber in Kabul. Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo had the difficult task of informing the soldiers’ families.
“When you look those parents straight in the eye there’s sadness, but for them there was also pride. Pride for what their children stood for and the sacrifices they made,” Calvo told the Army Times.
South Carolina has seen more than 100 of its men and women lay down their lives as part of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, retired Sgt. 1st Class Inez Baker of Cayce, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was killed in March in northeastern Afghanistan after going back to serve as an analyst with a private security company.
Vietnam veterans can visit a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Sumter this week. And the local Honor Flight program – the next one leaves Aug. 28 – takes older veterans to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. These are some of the ways we have chosen as a nation to show our collective respect and gratitude for the warriors who have given so much for us. But let’s not stop there.
Shake a veteran’s hand this weekend. Visit the grave of a soldier. Offer thanks. Say a prayer for someone overseas or for those families who celebrate this holiday weekend with one fewer member this year. Stand and acknowledge the blood and sweat shed by so many. Take to heart the words of Gen. John Logan, who penned General Order No. 11 in 1868, declaring May 30 a day for remembering fallen comrades:
“We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, ‘of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.’ What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
“If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.”