Make Every Day Count

By Kevin Shannahan

This is a difficult piece to write, but a necessary one. Memorial Day is, if anything, more important after wars that were lost. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost after twenty years of fighting as surely as if there had been a formal surrender. The past twenty-one years have seen the nation involved in, but for the majority of the population not connected with the military, committed to, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither war ended well after years of effort, treasure and blood. Iraq is mired in chaos and violence and Afghanistan is reverting to tribalism and Taliban rule with its attendant barbarism. This years’ Memorial Day finds much of the nation in a pensive mood.

As in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gate of the Presidential Palace in what was then Saigon, and crowds mobbed helicopters on the roof of the American Embassy, the United States faced defeat after an increasingly unpopular war.

This is not 1945, the last time the nation won an unequivocal military victory, destroying both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The veterans of the Korean War can look at the evil and needless poverty that is North Korea and the democracy that South Korea grew to be and take no small amount of satisfaction in keeping millions of innocents from the clutches of Communism. The veterans of Vietnam, and now Iraq and Afghanistan, can take little such consolation.

This Memorial Day, as we look back over the years since the 9-11 attacks and the thousands of dead, wounded and maimed from the over twenty years of war following the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, what lessons do we draw from the war? Historians will be arguing over what happened and why for years to come. More to the point, there are thousands of men and women who died in combat since 2001, with several thousand more wounded, often grievously. Then there are the families who have lost sons and daughters, the widows and the children who will know a parent only as a photograph. We owe the dead and those left behind a debt that cannot be repaid. We owe them a better country. Let us strive to make it so.

We must not relegate Memorial Day to the superficial pieties so commonly expressed. This is all the more important now that the majority of the nation has no real connection to the men and women who go into harm’s way in our nation’s interest. The nightly news is quite a bit more serious when one has a child or spouse in uniform.

Whether they died at Yorktown, Gettysburg, Argonne, Bastogne, Ia Drang or Kandahar, there is only one thing we can do to prevent their sacrifices from being wasted. Make our nation better! Be worthy of those men and women and their families’ sacrifices. Strive to be a better spouse, build a better life for your family. Be a better citizen.

To my fellow veterans-America still needs you. There is much work to be done. There are classrooms in underserved areas that need good men and women to step up as teachers. I am a far better man for having been a teacher and Scoutmaster after active duty. There are youth teams to coach, Scout troops that need leaders, our communities need good men and women to serve in many capacities. Run for office as veterans ranging in ideology from Dan Crenshaw to Tammy Duckworth have. Now that you have hung up your uniform, let us honor the dead as we work to bring America ever closer to what it should be. Make every day count!

“Was it worth it?” That question should haunt every politician and senior officer. We will never know, this side of Judgment Day. I do know that if we fail in “…the unfinished work…” President Lincoln spoke of in the Gettysburg Address, our nation will be found wanting and the answer will be “no”.