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Ground Zero: No ‘holiday,’ a day of sadness for those lost

Military families often seem to inhabit an alternate universe at this time in history.

While most of America is excited about Memorial Day as a three-day “holiday,” it is a time of sadness for those of us who have sent sons and daughters, husbands and wives to war. Even if our loved one made it home alive, we all know families who were not so fortunate.

I wear a reminder band for USMC Lcpl. Eric Levi Ward, 19, who died during a roadside bomb explosion on Feb. 21, 2010, in Afghanistan. He was an only child and I will be calling his mother Monica Ward on Monday to tell her that I have not forgotten her family’s sacrifice.

I will also be making a call to Debbie Lee, mother of Navy SEAL Marc Alan Lee, 28, who died Aug. 2, 2006, during a fierce firefight in Iraq. And to Brian Fike, a former Marine and National Guard officer whose son, Chad, 22, also a soldier, committed suicide July 7, 2013, because he could not cope with life after a deployment to Iraq.

My grim duty on May 26 will continue with calls to several other Gold Star moms who are not personal friends but to whom I want to pay my respects.

On Memorial Day, my son, a former Marine with five deployments under his belt, and millions of other veterans will also be grappling with memories of brothers and sisters lost in the field.

As Dr. Pat Stone said in a recent interview, every day is Memorial Day for a veteran because the experiences of combat are life-altering. My son came home a different man after spending 2010 in a rolling firefight during the most violent year of Operation Enduring Freedom. Neither he nor I really understand the extent of those changes and finding my way forward with him is sometimes a rocky path, but nowhere near as rough as the road he must travel to process his experiences.

With less than one percent of the nation’s population now serving in the military, it has become far too easy for civilians to shrug off the sacrifices being made by the few for the many. It is my belief that only a morally degraded culture would be apathetic about what happens to the men and women that the citizenry, through the officials they elect, send to war.

I challenge those of you without military connections to take a moment on Monday to remember that more than 700,000 men and women have given their lives on foreign soil so that you can live in safety and security. These soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines paid in blood for you to live in peace and enjoy good times with your families during this weekend and beyond.

George Orwell once said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Eric, Marc and Chad were three of those men and I am humbled their by sacrifice, and that of so many other warriors, on my behalf.

I wear a field memorial in ink as a tangible reminder to be an American worth dying for. In truth, that message is branded into my psyche. I bear grief not only for my adopted sons who never came home, but for those who did and left part of their soul in the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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