Every year on the last Monday in May, we remember those who died while serving their country; those prisoners of war and missing in action who never returned; and those who succumbed to wounds of war after coming home. Across America and even overseas in national cemeteries, people will come together for Memorial Day events — and thousands will gather to remember loved ones, family members and those heroes whom we only know as names engraved in stone.
We’ll remember those who gave their lives as far back as the American Revolution and those who paid that price during recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In some places — as we remember those who died decades or more than 100 years ago — there may not be family left to mourn. We will mourn in their place and will continue the sacred promise that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. In other places, family and friends will be on hand; the pain still raw and etched on their hearts and faces. We hope to find the words that — at least for a moment — might ease their grief.
This day has significant meaning for me. I am an Army veteran. I am the son of a Vietnam veteran who earned the Bronze Star in combat. I am the brother and nephew of military veterans. And now, I am the deputy secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, charged with carrying out our mission to ensure veterans, survivors, dependents and caregivers receive the benefits and services they have earned. I stand with the nation in mourning, remembering and honoring the men and women who — as President Abraham Lincoln once said — gave “their last full measure of devotion” so we may be free.
Many of us veterans have lost friends in combat or know someone who has. We know there is no greater sacrifice than laying down your life for a buddy; no greater loss than knowing you came home when a dear friend did not; and no greater pain than hearing that terrible knock on the door bringing heartbreaking news nobody wants to hear. And Memorial Day is an opportunity for those of us who are still here to remember and honor those who are not.
This Memorial Day, I am honored to speak at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, where 175,000 veterans and their loved ones are interred, including 14 Medal of Honor recipients. The National Cemetery is a place of rest — a reminder of all those who died in too many wars. Each name etched on every headstone has a story, even if the story was cut tragically short. These stories stretch back nearly 250 years — stories of those who devoted themselves to the cause of liberty.
As I speak, I will do my best to honor and commemorate the brave men and women who lay there in eternal rest. But even as I do, I will know — as we all do — words alone cannot fully capture their lives, nor can they bring those we’ve lost back to us. That’s why, on this day and every day, our actions mean so much more than words alone.
So, when you are taking time off to enjoy this Memorial Day, please let the family members and dear friends of the fallen know — in words, deeds and actions — that their loved ones will be forever remembered. Please do your best to let America and the world know these heroes’ sacrifices were not in vain. And please, in some small way, help shoulder some of the pain survivors feel — making the burden a bit lighter for families left to carry on.
Because the words we say on Memorial Day may not be remembered — we must put our them into action as they can stand the test of time. We must pay it forward for those who cannot. Maybe it’s a simple act of kindness each day in their memory. Maybe it’s helping a veteran navigating tough times. Maybe it’s simply stopping for a chat to educate a fellow veteran about their VA healthcare and benefits they so rightly earned.
No matter how you choose to spend this Memorial Day, I ask that you remember and honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom — not only in words, but in action.
We must continue to do what is right by these men and women — today, tomorrow, forever.