By Mia Garza McCord, President. May 25, 2020
One of my fondest memories growing up is of my grandfather, Concepcion “Chonito” Guerrero, driving to and from the local VFW every day to raise and lower the U.S. flag. Aside from his granddaughter, no one was watching, but he always did it with reverence and respect as if thousands were watching. Every Memorial Day, he would put on his best short sleeve button down and his VFW uniform cap, and join his brothers and sisters, both in blood and through service for a somber memorial service. Grandpa was always a little different that day-- quiet, reflective, and sad.
As a child, I loved the pomp and circumstance around the daily flag raising and lowering and the traditional Memorial Day ceremonies, but I don’t think I understood its meaning to Grandpa until much later in life. I will never forget the evening that one of my cousins actually got Grandpa to talk about his experience during World War II, which he never spoke about outside of admitting to serving during WWII.
The conversation started when I interviewed Grandpa for a school project. He talked about where he served and the day he got injured. I walked away satisfied, but one of my cousins continued the conversation and an hour or so later, Grandpa was in tears recalling his friends who didn’t make it and the deeply embedded wounds of war that even in his later years were as fresh as the day they happened.
As we take a moment to reflect on the meaning of this weekend, I cannot help but think about the pain in Grandpa’s teary eyes that night. His friends made the ultimate sacrifice during WWII and it was clear there was a slight tinge of guilt that he survived.
Those of us who never served wake up every day in a country where we can worship, speak without fear of government retaliation, express our individuality, and have a fair court system that presumes innocence before guilt. This Memorial Day, I challenge you to stop and reflect about what it truly means to be an American. Men and women across our country have given the ultimate sacrifice of their life so we can be free.
While I recognize that life is different for everyone right now, that does not diminish or refute the American lives that have been lost for us–who are complete strangers to most of these young men and women. In fact, this Memorial Day should mean that much more. Wherever you stand on businesses reopening and people getting back to everyday life, remember that you are able to hold and express those opinions because of brave men and women who wake up every day with the sole purpose of protecting us and fighting for the freedoms of our country.
Grandpa certainly was one of the fortunate survivors of WWII, but the gravity of the loss of his friends never escaped him. People like Marc A. Lee, the first Navy Seal killed in Iraq, and Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2013, are the reason we live in the greatest country in the world. They and their families paid the ultimate sacrifice. And, we should never forget.
Today, let us be reminded of John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” To all the men and women in our armed forces, thank you for your daily, selfless sacrifice. We are each indebted to you and your families. We remember your fallen brothers and sisters and pledge to never concede nor forfeit the freedoms for which they died.