Honor their sacrifice by remembering the true meaning of Memorial Day
By Brian Ishmael, senior director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs at University of Phoenix
My military journey is one that is shared by many American soldiers. Feelings of patriotism and unity inspired me to enlist in the Army just after 9/11. I became one of the more than 180,000 active duty enlisted shortly after the attacks, and soon found myself in combat in Iraq.
While many of the tragic details of my service are too personal to tell even to my wife, my memories of the friends I lost will stay with me for the rest of my life. And that’s something I don’t share with many of my brothers and sisters in arms, because unlike so many others, I was fortunate enough to come home.
Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has lost more than 7,000 service members. In all wars, more than 1 million Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Many of my friends didn’t make it home. All others who have served our country can say the same. Their sacrifices are what makes May 25 – Memorial Day – such an important remembrance. Memorial Day is the one day each year set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a time to show respect and support for the families and friends who aren’t able to see their loved ones again.
For me, as a combat veteran and for many veterans across the country, this day is personal. There are names and faces associated with this day of remembrance.
It’s a time when I remember the fallen – those I knew and those I didn’t – and reflect on what their sacrifice means to our country and their families. But, unfortunately, this sentiment isn’t shared across the country.
Far too often, Memorial Day is conflated with Veterans Day, when we honor all who serve, past and present, not just those who perished in service to our country. For others, it’s simply the start to summer and a day for barbecues and celebrations. But that isn’t why we celebrate. Memorial Day is a somber day, and an important time, especially for those left behind, to honor the memory of loved ones who died in combat.
At University of Phoenix, we recognize the importance of Memorial Day to the more than 13 percent of our student body who are military-affiliated. For the last 10 years, we’ve held a flag-planting ceremony at our Phoenix Campus, where we pay tribute to fallen servicemembers through a poignant flag display. Each year, thousands of American flags are displayed on the Campus lawn, spelling out a significant phrase honoring the fallen. This year the theme is “Honor their Sacrifice.”
It’s important for the public to understand that these people lost their lives so that we can remain safe and free.
— Brian Ishmael,
Senior director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs at University of Phoenix
In the past, the ceremony was open for the public to attend and included a message from a keynote speaker with a special affiliation to Memorial Day. However, this year, for our 11th annual event, things looked a little different.
In response to the public gathering restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed our Memorial Day ceremony to a virtual event. While we couldn’t create the flag display at our Campus, we remembered the fallen in other ways. Our “Honor their Sacrifice” theme was displayed as a computer-generated graphic on our lawn to keep the traditional alive. We continued the legacy of hosting a keynote speaker and shared messages about the significance of Memorial Day.
While we’d hoped to continue our display for an 11th year, we felt it was vitally important to protect the safety of the volunteers, participants and the public while still supporting our military-affiliated students and alumni by providing a virtual space to honor their fallen loved ones and support them in their loss.
By moving this event online, we gave our students and alumni an opportunity to pause and remember, and also an opportunity to help educate the public in general about Memorial Day and what it means when you put your life on the line to serve our country.
You may not have known someone who has lost their life in combat or been directly impacted by such a loss, but your country has. It’s important for the public to understand that these people lost their lives so that we can remain safe and free. A recap of the event is available to view on the University of Phoenix Facebook page.
Above all, remember that Memorial Day isn’t a day of celebration. It’s a day of great significance for all of us, whether you are military-affiliated or not, to honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in service to our country. Despite what’s happening in the world, it’s important for us, as Americans, to remember this.
Brian Ishmael is the senior director of the University of Phoenix Office of Military and Veteran Affairs. He is a former Army sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault. His enlistment lasted from 2002-07, half of this time was spent in a combat environment in Iraq.
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