Photo of a folded american flag carried by a soldier

1,299,413 Heroes

Mike Merit (Nov. 11, 2013) 1,299,413 Americans have been killed in action in all the wars that United States has officially participated in.  That’s how many pairs of boots I had the responsibility of filling when I took the oath and stood on those yellow footprints June 9th, 1998.

In that moment, the weight of what you just signed up for doesn’t hit you, all you can think about is why did you do this.  The greater weight of it all hits you once you get that call to arms, after our nation or its interests have been attacked.  When that call comes in, you suddenly realize who and what you represent: You represent your country.  You hold the lives of those you protect and those who fought and fell before you on your shoulders.  It is an awesome responsibility that you have to maintain in the face of life and death decisions that you have yet to face.  It is something that nothing in your prior life can prepare you for.  It is the greatest responsibility anyone faces.

Some of us were born to do this, some of us were meant to do this, and then some of us, including myself, just kind of fell into it. As a Marine, I prayed for the call to defend my country, but as the end of my enlistment drew near, I felt as though I hadn’t fulfilled the duties entrusted to me.  When not in a war situation, one tends to lose perspective, and I had done just that in feeling that I had been cheated out of putting my life on the line for my nation.  September 11, 2001 changed all that as I watched the Twin Towers fall.  Knowing that terrorists had pulled it off, and that more than likely it was Osama Bin Laden behind it, meant we would be called to take him out since he was in our area of operation.  Without going into detail, there are scenarios they (the Marines) prep you for in order to test your metal in such situations.  However, nothing can prepare you for the actual time you face the call, knowing that you just became part of an equation for the mission’s accomplishment.  You always knew you were, but now the reality of it set in and it was time to answer that call without question.  Thousands did in WWII without thought, even without the draft.  You question yourself, ‘can I live up to that commitment to our country?’  As a Marine, you don’t have time to answer that, you just do what you’ve trained to do.  There is no faltering, no wavering, no questioning the call.  You take the matter at hand and follow your orders to achieve the mission’s end.

Veterans Day holds a special place in my heart, not just because I am a veteran, but because I have family members who have fought for our country as well.  This country is the land that I love and could never leave; it is my home. While America has her issues and differences, she is the greatest country in the world and since I was a kid, I have always wanted to give back to her in some way.  I didn’t know that twelve and a half years in the United States Marine Corps would be how; I always thought it would be in some elected office. I love the Corps, what it gave me, what it taught me, what I learned from it, and above all the undying friendships I garnered, friendships I will cherish until my dying day.

A veteran’s service is different to each individual.  What they received out of it is what made them who they were/are.  I cannot speak for another’s experience, but mine gave me the greatest experience of my life because I was a part of something more.  Sure there were some hard times, and I lost several friends along the way, but I wouldn’t change one minute of my service.

We take time out one day a year to remember those, in peace and in war, who fought for and may have died for our freedoms.  Veterans Day is a day for each and every American to take a moment of pause and recognize why we still have the freedoms granted to us by our forefathers.  Whether 100% or 20% of Americans utilize that time to honor our veterans, those who have put their lives on the line or gave the ultimate sacrifice, is neither here nor there.  This day was set aside to say ‘thank you’ for their service and their families’ commitment.  How one chooses to utilize it is up to him or her, that is their choice afforded them through the sacrifices of others.  However we should remember that had it not been for the veterans, none of us would have the opportunity to choose how we spend our “days off.”  It’s not about the three-day weekend, it’s to pause and honor the individuals who have put their lives on the line to keep those they love, and even those they have never met, safe and free.

May we, as a nation, never forget their sacrifices and the triumph they have accomplished in keeping us safe and free.  May we always honor, always remember, and may we never forget the sacrifices of our military and their families.  Our lives and our freedoms are owed to those brave men and women who have unselfishly given their service to the defense of our country.  May God continue to bless them all, and may each and every one of you never forget the sacrifices and losses of our veterans to keep you safe and to ensure your freedoms.

(Photo by Remember Heroes)