By CAMERON SMITH
Every day I feel privileged to serve as the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. After three tours in Iraq as a Marine, I find great strength and solace in continuing to serve our military and veterans’ community.
At the same time, I am humbled by the mission at hand. For the first time in history, we are serving four generations of veterans who have served in our military, fought our battles in five major wars and stood guard over our peace.
As a state and nation, we should all feel the weight of that responsibility – perhaps no more so, than as we approach Memorial Day.
If we cut through the clutter of the start of summer and screaming sales, Memorial Day is an opportunity for us to honor the memory of our fallen friends, family, and heroes.
How can we ever forget their service and sacrifice?
Across the ages, from the beaches in Europe and on Pacific islands to the mountains and jungles in Asia, countless Americans have stood up to serve and have laid down their lives. At the most basic level, they fought to protect the one on their right and the one on their left, but ultimately their fight protects us all and preserves the values we hold dear.
And we cannot forget that we remain a country at war. Over the last decade, we have lost almost 7,000 in the deserts, mountains and city streets half way across the world in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The weight of these recent conflicts has been borne by the few. Most of our citizens have not been directly touched by the wars. The same cannot be said for our Gold Star families.
Attending the funerals of our fallen service members is both the hardest part and greatest honor of my job. When I grieve with Gold Star families, I am struck by their remarkable strength and resiliency. They have undoubtedly lost a light in their lives, yet they recommit with great resolve to live their life in honor of their fallen service member.
Once again, Memorial Day observances will be held across this state, and there can never be too many of them. Whether one served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East or elsewhere, veterans share a connection across the eras.
William Shakespeare wrote in Henry the Fifth about this bond between warriors: “From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
This Memorial Day, let us all pause to remember our fallen and their families. Let us never forget what these men and women have done and what their loved ones have lost.
We are stronger for their service and will never forget their sacrifice.
(Cameron Smith is director, of the Oregon Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs.
He can be called at 503-373-2388.)