Guest Commentary: Pause on Memorial Day to think of fallen heroes and those who are missing

Memorial Day is not just some other three-day weekend for me and my family. We enjoy our family picnic and time spent together, of course, but we do not forget to take a moment to commemorate and reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who lost their lives fighting for the freedoms we enjoy every day.

My family has a strong history of military service. Not only did I serve in Iraq in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than six years, but my brothers besides some served in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. My son, Jeremiah, who is attending the Air Force Academy this fall will continue our family’s legacy of military service.

But you do not have to be a military family to understand the importance of Memorial Day. It is encouraging that more than 49 percent of Americans believe Memorial Day is one of our nation’s most important holidays, but only 28 percent of Americans know the true meaning of Memorial Day: to remember those who have died protective our country.

Memorial Day is more than just observance the service of the deceased, it is about keeping their memory alive. This holiday is particularly important to me not just because I am a Marine veteran, but because I was mortuary affairs specialist. You see, mortuary affairs specialists have an incredibly difficult, but important job: our mission is to bring our fallen home.

Mortuary affairs specialists are not only tasked with convalescent, identifying, and preserving those killed in the line of duty, but safeguarding their personal items too. It is an incredibly humbling experience that has helped me realize some the importance of seizing every moment life has to offer as well as the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect.

While we share a somber moment with those we have lost today, Memorial Day does not have to be a day of sadness. The men and women who enlist in military service know the unbelievable risk they are taking, and today is a day to remember their sacrifice and to give them the dignity they merit.

As a mortuary affairs specialist, I believe that we all have a special responsibility to not just memorialize those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, but to remember those who are missing in action and prisoners of war. MIA/POWs are not classified as deceased, but as unaccounted for. There are presently more than 82,000 Americans who remain missing from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts.

These men and women have besides made tremendous sacrifices for our country, but are often forgotten as their name career don’t appear on a headstone in places like Arlington National cemetery or a veteran’s memorial. I believe we need to return these brave Americans home and give them the burial they merit, but the least we can do is share their stories and keep their memory alive.

While you enjoy your time with your family this weekend, I ask that you keep those families who do not get that privilege in your thoughts. Take the time to learn about the stories of America’s fallen heroes who served our country with dignity, honor, and courage. These families suffered a deeply personal loss, but we all have a responsibility to carry on the memory and legacy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Leroy Garcia is Colorado’s Senate president. He represents Senate District 3 in Pueblo and Pueblo West.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.