Today, many Americans associate Memorial Day as the start of summer, or a day filled with barbeques and department store sales. We, as Legionnaires, need to change this way of thinking. We can start by educating our neighbors, community members and young people that Memorial Day is appropriately set aside to honor our fallen war veterans – those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country. We owe it to the heroes that died, and also the loved ones left behind, to make sure that their sacrifices will always be remembered and that their service to this nation will always be honored.
In 2012, more than 7,000 posts either hosted or participated in a local Memorial Day event, and more than 800 Legion Riders gathered in Virginia to participate in Rolling Thunder’s Run to the Wall. But Legionnaires around the world honor our fallen war heroes every day – not just on Memorial Day. They do so by building or rededicating veterans memorials, serving as honor guards at funerals, fundraising to support children of military personnel killed on duty and much more. The responsibility of remembrance falls to all of us – not just The American Legion and other veterans organizations, not just those serving in uniform, but every man, woman and child who woke up this morning in the land of the free. In one more generation, most of us who knew those lost in Vietnam will be gone. Even now, we're holding fast to the few who have firsthand memories of those who died in World War II and Korea.
To ensure our fallen heroes are not forgotten on Memorial Day and every day, I have a challenge for you: start inviting your neighbors, community groups and youth to your honor and remembrance events. Bring them to your post to learn more about veterans and the mission of The American Legion. Ask Boy Scout troops to help place American flags at the gravesites of fallen heroes. Take families to a ceremony where an MIA/POW tribute is presented, Gold Star mothers are in attendance, the names of fallen servicemembers are read, a 21-gun salute is heard and "Taps" is played.
While it’s unfortunate that we can’t personally show our appreciation to these heroes, we can pay tribute to them in many other ways. Milt Heifner, past national vice commander of The American Legion from Iowa, said it was important for Americans to honor those who have fought and died in uniform because "everything that we have in America is a result of the sacrifices by our troops, by our veterans. And what they’ve given us is through what they fought for and the sacrifices that they’ve made."