Memorial Day: Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day: Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice


USBA Honors Memorial Day- 2nd Lt. Kate Anderson

While summer doesn’t technically start until June 21, for most Americans the last weekend in May is all about kicking off the unofficial start to the season with some fun in the sun. But Memorial Day holds much more meaning than backyard BBQs or time at the beach. It is a time to reflect and remember the men and women who died while serving our country and fighting for our freedoms.

Stories of sacrifice
As of 2023, more than 1.3 million soldiers have died fighting for America1 since the Revolutionary War. These American service members made the ultimate sacrifice fighting in wars around the globe, including both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

We will never know every story of our fallen heroes’ sacrifices, but some stand-out soldiers’ actions live on through the Congressional Medal of Honor. To date, through the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Congress has commemorated the valor of 679 of the most admirable soldiers who lost their lives serving in an American war. Here are just a few:

  • Recipient Michael Murphy was killed in the line of duty after he left his cover position and went to a clearing, exposing himself to enemy fire, in order to get a clear signal to contact headquarters to request immediate support for his team. The LT. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation hosts The Murph Challenge on Memorial Day every year in his honor.
  • Recipient Michael Monsoor protected his teammates, rather than himself, when an explosive device hit their area. His actions saved the lives of his two teammates.
  • Recipient Rodney Yano was a crew chief on a helicopter. When a phosphorous grenade exploded prematurely, he exposed himself to injury by grabbing the explosive device and throwing it out of the aircraft. His sacrifice saved the lives of his crew members.
  • Recipient Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano protected his squad by drawing enemy fire to his position. He died during hand-to-hand combat. In giving his life, his actions inspired the rest of his unit to launch a counterattack that repulsed the enemy.

These Medal of Honor Recipients and over a million other soldiers bravely given their lives in service to our country. During services to remember U.S. Marine Capt. Matthew Tomkiewicz, who died in action in 2022, Brig. Gen. Marcus Annibale defined the true meaning of Memorial Day as a time “to remember the uncommon courage of all who sacrificed their own lives to protect others and secure freedom.”

Teaching the next generation
Memorial Day can be confusing for children and often misunderstood. The deeper meaning of this important day of remembrance can be a tough message to get across to young kids, especially if they have not been directly impacted by war or life in the armed services. Although topics like death and war can be hard for kids to process, experts say it is a good idea to help this younger generation understand the significance of Memorial Day.

The best way to approach the topic is by keeping it simple. Start by talking to them about what the day means to you. Try sharing stories about those you or people close to you have lost and what that sacrifice means to your family and the nation. For the very young ones, even just explaining that it is a day to thank those people who made our country what it is and keep it safe is a great way to instill the importance of Memorial Day.

Commemorating our fallen heroes
Respecting what Memorial Day stands for and celebrating accordingly is the best way to show the soldiers we lost while protecting our country the gratitude they deserve. Many of us learn best through tangible experiences. Participating in activities and events focused on honoring the members of the U.S. military who died in American wars is a great way to make the meaning of Memorial Day resonate.

Here are some opportunities to make Memorial Day meaningful:

  • Pause for a moment of silence at 3 PM for the National Moment of Remembrance.
  • On Memorial Day, fly your American flag at half-staff until noon and then raise it to the top for the rest of the day.
  • Visit a military cemetery or war memorial.
  • Watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS.
  • Call, text, visit, or send the USBA e-card to someone who has lost a soldier to celebrate the memory of their hero.

1 Sergent, Jim; Bravo, Veronica. “Memorial Day 2023: Remembering American heroes lost at war.” USA Today. May 23, 2023

Uniformed Services Benefit Association (USBA) is a not-for-profit Association that provides group life insurance, health insurance supplements, and other products and services to military personnel, Federal employees, National Guard and Reserve members, Veterans and their families.

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