CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- The earth seemed still and quiet as coalition forces came together during a memorial ceremony to honor the service members who not only gave their blood, sweat and tears, but also those who gave their lives, paying the ultimate sacrifice, for freedom.
Gaylord Nelson, an army soldier who served in World War II during the Okinawa Campaign said, “The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
Those words rang true as coalition members reflected on the lives lost over the past decade fighting in support of Operation Enduring Freedom during the ceremony held aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 26, 2014.
This ceremony marks the last Memorial Day ceremony to be held in Afghanistan for U.S. Marines serving in Regional Command (Southwest).
“Today is a day of remembrance for anyone who has been in the military,” said Sgt. Maj. Douglas Berry, Jr., RC(SW) sergeant major. “We honor our fallen and remember those who have gone before us. It is something we have all learned since boot camp as recruits. From Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, to Tarawa, Inchon, Hue City and Beirut, we really glorify, as we should, and take pride in our history and past performances. It is more than Dan Daly and Smedley Butler, it is everybody from private to general who is no longer with us, whether they were killed in action in a major battle serving in a campaign, or they are no longer with us because they served and are a veteran who has passed. It is a day to reflect. It is a day to remember. It is a day to honor.”
In 1868, a few years after the civil war ended, Americans began observing a decoration day, adorning the graves in honor of those who had fallen. By the end of the 19th century, memorial ceremonies were being held all over the United States. After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor all the service members who died during an American war. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday that would occur annually on the last Monday in May.
“This is important to do, and the fact that we are here, we are all we have,” said Sgt. Maj. Berry. “We are surrounded by service members and by Marines. It is the right thing for us to do. It is not a question of whether or not we have to have a ceremony, we should have one to remember and honor those who have served here and have passed here. Whether it was American or coalition, we are one team, one fight. It takes everyone here to do what we do.”
Since OEF began, 2,184 American service members have been killed in action, and 19,600 have been wounded in action. Of those American lives lost, 373 were Marines killed in action, and 4,927 were Marines wounded in action.
“As we talk about why we serve, I think we understand why we serve,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel D. Yoo, commander, RC(SW). “We understand the meaning of shared hardships and shared risks, but most importantly of shared accountability. I don’t think any of us really, really understand or appreciate what the families of those who have fallen go through on an annual basis. Not just the anniversary of the death of their loved one, but on these occasions like Memorial Day. For me, as I walk through the command post and I look at all the faces of all those that have given their lives here in RC(SW), it is a sobering reminder of the cost of our profession, but it is also very heartening for me because I know that even though they are no longer with us here in this life, they will always be with us in our hearts and our memory. Most importantly, I know when I look up that they have seized the high ground and they continue to provide overwatch for all of us here.”
During the ceremony, the American flag was raised then lowered to half-staff in honor of all the heroes. Coalition members stood still and bowed their heads in a moment of silence to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
The significance of every Memorial Day ceremony is to honor and remember the fallen, those who are written in the history books and have paved the way for American freedom. Those that served are brothers, sisters, husbands and wives. They are fathers, mothers, uncles, and aunts. They are family, and they are friends. Each one was a life that was sacrificed, and each one is a life that will never be forgotten.