Memorial Day calls for reflection on service, sacrifice of others

  • Published
  • By Gen. Donald J. Hoffman
  • Commander, Air Force Materiel Command
Throughout my Air Force career, I've often reflected on the meanings of service and sacrifice. I'm proud of the service and sacrifices our men and women in uniform make every day so we, and all Americans, can enjoy our many freedoms. However, when I attended the reunion of the famed Doolittle Raiders last month, I was sharply reminded of just how great the sacrifice is for some. Eighty brave Airmen took off on the Raiders' mission, but not all returned. Since that famous mission in which the Raiders, under the command of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, bombed Tokyo, all but eight men who survived the raid have passed away.

Because the Doolittle Raid sent the nation's morale sky high, and because the men who flew that mission displayed such daring and courage, they are enshrined for posterity in countless historical narratives. As I continued to reflect on service and sacrifice since the reunion, I thought about the countless men and women who've died no less honorably, but who are largely unknown. More than 626,000 Americans have died in combat on foreign soil since the American Civil War. We may not know their names, but we can honor them by remembering, or if need be, learning about, what they accomplished in service to the United States of America and its democratic values.

One of the criticisms I've heard leveled at the United States military is that it is an instrument of imperialism, that is, the force that has built and sustains an American empire. This view is misguided at best. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke powerfully in response to this critique at the 2003 World Economic Forum when he said, "We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we've done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own lives in peace."

On Memorial Day, we value the peace, prosperity, and freedom to live our lives as we choose, which have been purchased with the lives of America's military men and women. We owe them more than a few words in speeches and a day off of work. I plan to stop whatever I'm doing on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. for the National Moment of Remembrance. I hope you will too. Take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices and service our heroes in uniform, and their families, have made.

When the Moment of Remembrance is over, and we go back to thinking about the heat or the traffic or how quickly even three-day weekends seem to go, let's try to put our own situations into perspective. The number of men and women who have died in the line of duty continues to grow; we are still losing Americans in combat today. To these fallen warriors, and all those who went before them, we owe a debt that cannot truly be repaid.