Memorial Day Thoughts from a Veteran Who Made it Back Home

The following is a post written by my friend, and Veteran, Matt Mason:

It has been ten years since I left Camp Lejeune for the last time — and when Memorial Day rolls around, my family, friends, and colleagues often ask me how they can thank me as a veteran. What is the best way to honor those who have served our country?

The answer I give often surprises people. I believe we should live (and live freely) in a country that has always loved, honored, and fought for freedom. We have fought for our freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, and of our right to assemble, to name a few. The best way to thank a veteran is to actively enjoy those freedoms — don’t take them for granted — and ensure we pass them along to the next generation.

Honoring the Fallen

But this Memorial Day, I want to remind you of something else — a piece that sometimes gets lost in all of the political rhetoric, the photo ops, or the latest Applebees-sponsored free lunch for veterans. I want to remind you that Memorial Day is about those who DIED in the course of service for the very freedoms that we possess and enjoy.

One of the most sobering moments of my life was in November 2009. I had just finished the Marine Corps marathon the day before, and my wife and I stopped at Arlington Memorial Cemetary on our way back to North Carolina. Walking on stiff, achy legs through thousands of crosses on a breezy, cool day brought me an overwhelming sense of peace and humility. It was awe-inspiring to see the number of men and women there who have been laid to rest, many of them perishing in the heat of battle. To this day, the moment is seared into my memory as an example of what it means to memorialize the fallen.

The Healthy Side of Survivor’s Guilt

My days of military service have long since passed, but I would be lying if I said I don’t live with some guilt about surviving my three combat deployments. Most combat veterans do — some of it healthy, some of it not. The healthy side of that guilt motivates me to make the most of my life and never to stop living, enjoying, and teaching others about our freedoms. The healthy side of it reminds me of the eternal hope we have on this side of heaven. 

God obviously had a different plan for me, so what will I do with it? That is a question that we can answer at another place and time. Is it fair that some return home from the fight and some do not? I’m uncertain there is enough human wisdom to answer that question in a way that would make sense. Our God makes his feelings known on this subject, “Greater Love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. 

The men I served with were my teammates, brothers, and friends. We loved each other and would gladly have given our lives for each other. Maybe those who have given their life in service to this country are reaping the reward of knowing they laid down their life for their friends, fellow Americans, and fellow man. Let’s honor them this Memorial Day.

God Bless,

Matthew J Mason

Capt. USMC

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