Memorial Day is not a celebration, it is a commemoration. The last Monday each May is intended to honor those who sacrificed themselves for others, including you and me.

The commemoration of Memorial Day is not about glorifying war it is about remembering those who died in service of their country. Memorial Day is not about just of unjust wars, the military-industrial complex, political correctness or a trip to the beach. It is a day to honor those who put others ahead of self.

Contrary to movies and grand speeches, those who sacrificed themselves did not do so with “Old Glory” in their gaze or with the “Star Spangled Banner” playing in the background. They died in many ways; by a hidden sniper’s bullet, on dirty and grimy battlefields, in malarial jungles, in horrendous explosions aboard ships, unable to bail out of shot up aircraft, and countless other ways most of us cannot or don't want to imagine.

Most were not John Wayne superhero types. They were scared kids attempting to survive in a hostile place.  They were fighting for each other and in many cases saving their buddies’ lives by sacrificing their own. They died because the world’s most dangerous job had to be done.

Combat medics and chaplains say the last words of the fallen more often than not is “mama, mom or mother,” a last call to those who gave them their life.

Some of those we honor were professional soldiers, many graduated from our nation’s military academies, trained for “duty, honor and country”. Some joined up in response to “Uncle Sam’s” recruiting call to service. Still others were in combat because their number was selected in the draft, a conscription of citizen soldiers used during six of our nation’s major conflicts beginning with the American Revolution and ending with Vietnam.

For the most part those who sacrificed themselves did so because they thought it the right thing to do, the correct response to a threat. While we call them heroes, and they were, they would tell you they just did what they had to do.

Those who have returned from combat refuse to describe themselves as heroes. They generally refer to themselves as survivors and point to those who did not return as the true heroes.

Whether it be an officially declared war, a campaign, skirmish or terrorist attack; more than 1.1 million have died fighting for this country since its very first military action at Lexington and Concord to begin the American Revolutionary War.

The circumstances of their deaths are as varied as who they were. All races, all creeds, all colors and all genders have fought and died fighting for this country.

They are the soldier who dove on a hand grenade to save his patrol, they are chaplains who died comforting the wounded as the battle raged around them, and they are medics who put themselves in harm’s way to save the wounded only to be killed doing their job as the enemy targeted the red cross on their helmet.

Some were anti-war but became medics, non-combatants, because they couldn’t just sit by.

We honor today the sailors who helped shipmates to safety as long as possible aboard mortally damaged ships, waiting until everyone else was out until it was too late for them.

There are the bomber pilots who remained in the cockpit, keeping his aircraft steady so his crew could bailout and live, knowing he could not survive.

They are the corporal who repeatedly crawled into no-man’s land to pull numerous wounded men back to the trenches before a bullet claimed his life.

Sacrifice describes what the Marine sergeant did with his life after ordering his men to pull back when his outnumbered platoon was attacked in large numbers. To give them time to get to safety and regroup, he manned an unoccupied machine gun and held off their foes until he was killed by a grenade.

In 1917 World War I Army nurses Clara Ayres and Helen Wood became the first female members of the U.S. military killed in the line of duty.

And then there is 15-year-old Dan Bullock. He lied about his age by falsifying papers so he could enlist in the Marine Corps. The North Carolina youth was killed at An Hoa Combat Base in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. He was on night duty when his bunker came under attack from North Vietnamese forces and perished when the enemy threw a satchel explosive into his bunker.

Some of those we remember today did come back but they were not the same after witnessing the horrors of warfare. Among them were the thousands of World War I soldiers who were gassed in the trenches. Many lived out the remainder of their days in Veteran’s Medical Centers like Tuscaloosa’s, just existing.

Others returned to their families and loved ones but could not shake what they had experienced and took their own lives, often years after combat action. They too were casualties of war.

Throughout our history these types of stories have been replicated time and again on the battlefields, oceans and in the air.

Those we honor today died while doing their duty. They were average Americans doing well above average things. Today is the day to put aside any differences in opinion about war and to concentrate on the person, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors who answered their nation’s call and sacrificed their lives for us.

West Alabama remembers all who fought and perished in ceremonies at 9:00 this morning at Veteran’s Memorial Park at 1701 McFarland Blvd. East.

PARA will join the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center and The University of Alabama Office of Veteran and Military Affairs to jointly host the ceremony.

Keynote speaker is Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Kaye, a Green Beret whose decades of service earned him the Combat Infantry Badge, Master Wings, The Legion of Merit, three Meritorious Service Medals, and the Bronze Star, among others.

If there is inclement weather, the proceedings will be moved to the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center Sports Atrium, 3701 Loop Road East.

Whether you attend or not, take a moment to remember those who gave their last full measure of life for us.

SEE: Special Forces Officer to Lead Tuscaloosa Memorial Day Ceremony.

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