If we don't remember, no one else will

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. O.G. Mannon
  • 82nd Training Wing commander
As a young officer, Memorial Day was a time to join the aging veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Korea to honor those who died in the wars our fathers and grandfathers fought. Standing at attention with these heroes was a moving experience, but I knew that it meant something to them that was beyond me. 

Now, after eight years of war -- our war -- I understand better. Now there are coworkers, classmates and friends among the dead whom we honor on Memorial Day. Now, my connection to the fallen is not merely professional. It's personal. 

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending the Iwo Jima Survivors reunion held in Wichita Falls. It was a humbling and amazing experience to be among them. Their group gets smaller with each passing year, and it won't be too many more years before there are none left alive who witnessed what happened on that little island in the Pacific. 

But I'm betting there will still be a reunion held in their honor. As the heroes of Iwo Jima have aged, their children have taken up the cause, organizing and planning the event after their parents no longer could. And these children -- some of whom are grandparents themselves -- are bringing their children and their children's children along with them. It was deeply touching to watch these little ones' eyes light up with pride as they looked at their great grandfathers, dressed in their 60-year-old uniforms, and recognized them for the heroes they are. 

I wonder if we will honor and remember "our war" and its heroes as well as they have honored theirs. I hope we will. I hope we will still gather to remember and honor names like Tech. Sgt. John Chapman and Senior Airman Jason Cunningham. 

And I hope we will be wise enough to bring our children and our children's children.
The war goes on, but it's not too soon to begin -- and truthfully, we could do better. Attend one of the local Memorial Day events, and you will typically find a small handful of aging veterans in fading uniforms. Typically, you will find too few crisp, new uniforms standing with them. 

We need to change that because if we don't remember, no one else will either. If we don't honor the friends and fellow warriors we have lost, they will be forgotten by all but their own families. We owe them better. 

For many Americans, Memorial Day is mostly a time for picnics and long weekends at the beach to celebrate the beginning of summer. Let it not be so for us. Instead of simply celebrating the start of a new summer in our lives, let us honor those we lost in the spring of theirs.