ACOFP Governor LTC Derrick Sorweide, DO, FACOFP, shares his personal experience serving in the military and reflects on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
By LTC Derrick Sorweide, DO, FACOFP; United States Army Reserve, Medical Readiness and Training Command; ACOFP Governor
That Memorial Day was different.
Like most Americans, I had grown up spending the long Memorial Day weekend with friends and family, having fun in the sun. For my family, it was usually on the lake in our boat, enjoying barbeque and cold drinks. During those fun-filled weekends, we spent more time thinking about sunglasses and water skis than much else. Although I considered myself patriotic and could tell you what the day was for, if asked, it honestly was not the focus of those youthful times.
Armed Forces Day is for all of those who are currently serving. Veteran’s Day is for all of those who have served. But Memorial Day is the truly special one. It is the day to remember all of those men and women who have died protecting our country and our way of life. Put another way, Armed Forces Day is for those who wear the uniform, Veteran’s Day for those who wore the uniform, and Memorial Day for those who never got to take it off.
But one Memorial Day was different. For years, I had watched the news about Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly, there I was, sitting quietly by myself in a bunker, staring out over the nighttime sands of Iraq. It was dark and amazingly quiet that night, except for the ever-present night wind and the din of the diesel generators. I had finished my shift in the EMT (the military version of an ER) and now had some time to reflect and try to untangle my mind enough to sleep. Earlier that day, they had brought us hotdogs and hamburgers, along with alcohol free beer (we were in an Islamic country). I had time to reminisce about the Memorial Days of my youth and to allow myself to recognize that “Is this really happening?” feeling.
A couple weeks before, we had been in Texas. It was also hot and dry, but nothing like this. This is where I first started to have those feeling—those times when I could either allow myself to become overwhelmed or I could recognize and appreciate what I was doing. I felt it the day we were all issued our weapons, body armor and chemical attack gear. Then again that evening as soldiers of all ages and backgrounds worked purposefully to organize, clean, assemble and pack items that we all knew might save our lives—or those of the soldiers around us. Some worked in silent contemplation; others were cracking jokes. I felt it as we practiced moving in formation through the desert and learned how to spot IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices—our enemy’s current weapon of choice). I was feeling it again that Memorial Day night, as that soldier in a far-off land, thinking about home and taking a precious bit of quiet time to relax from the work that we were there to do.
I thought about those soldiers, seamen, marines and airmen that we had sent home, as best we could, to recover from their injuries. I also thought about the ones that we sent home in boxes draped with flags.
What had once been just names chiseled into a wall or a monument somewhere had become real to me now. I understood that those names—along with the faces, dates, places and scenes—were also forever chiseled into the memories of those who served beside them, those who were there with them until the end. I also knew that those faces and names, as well as many more happy memories, were also carved deeply into the hearts of family and friends that they had left back home.
Many of our DO colleagues—whether they talk about it or not—carry these faces and names on their memories, on their hearts or both. Sadly, after fighting two wars over the last 20 years, it is becoming hard to find someone who does not.
That is what Memorial Day means: to remember. And with that is going to come some heartache. But as you remember, also strive to take action, to turn that hurt into healing. Put on those aloha shirts and fire up those barbeques. Put those drinks on ice. Laugh and converse with family and neighbors. Put your arguments aside for a while and relax and enjoy. Our country needs it.
Celebrate that America—the one with baseball, hotdogs, flags flying, and national pride. The one that appreciates its safety and many blessings. The one that answers when the world calls. The one that celebrates our similarities, as well as our differences. The one that acknowledges a higher purpose, not just for our daily lives, but for our country as a whole. Remember and honor those who cannot come home by helping to make this a homeland to celebrate.
It is that vision of America that those men and women in uniform are overseas to protect. It is that America that so many have fought and died for.