Heartfelt Thanks of a Grateful Nation

Forrest Faison, M.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and 38th surgeon general, U.S. Navy, shared the following reflection for Memorial Day:

What does Memorial Day mean to me?  

This year marks the 157th observance of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and ensured that our children will inherit the greatest gift we can ever leave them: freedom. As the commander of a combat hospital during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I witnessed the price of that freedom, a cost most of us will never have to bear. That cost was paid for us by the men and women who, since the founding of our nation, have volunteered to defend the country they love, be part of something bigger than themselves, help bring liberty to others and ensure that the world we pass on to our children is better and safer than the world that was passed to us. When our country needed them most, they were the ones who raised their hands and said “send me,” bearing the cost of freedom on our behalf.

I also witnessed that cost in the six military funerals of fallen service members over which I have been privileged to preside during my career. The presiding officer stands at the graveside and accepts from the pallbearers the flag of our nation that covered the casket, now ceremoniously and reverently folded. Then, kneeling, presents that flag to the family “with the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation.” Each time I knelt and said those words, I was reminded of the enormity of their sacrifice and that of their families, a sacrifice we can never repay but can honor every day by cherishing the freedoms for which they died and never taking those freedoms for granted.  

Many of the world’s people today do not live in freedom: free speech and thought, the right to self-determination, the right to vote and determine who represents us and how we will be governed, the right to due process….are unknown to many around the world….but are known and enjoyed by Americans daily because of these men and women who were willing to give their all on our behalf.  

And so, on this Memorial Day, take time to thank them….either in a silent prayer, by visiting a veteran cemetery or just spending a few moments to look at our national flag flying proudly in the wind and reflect on all that it represents, remembering and giving thanks for those who went before us and paid the price for our freedom, our security, our liberty….for us and for those we love. Give thanks for these heroes this Memorial Day and always remember that freedom is never free.   

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