Soldier Report: Deployed Rhinelander soldier reflects on Memorial Day
Editor’s note: The Star Journal will be publishing periodic articles from Sergeant Rick Peterson of Rhinelander during his deployment to Afghanistan.
It is my personal observation that support for the members of the Armed Forces is strong throughout the United States, perhaps stronger than it has been since World War II. For more than the past two decades our nation has continuously been involved in military engagements around the world, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan, and the citizenry has largely responded with respect and appreciation for the troops that have served.
Other than the births and accomplishments of my children, there are few things in life that I can remember as vividly as the reception we received upon our return to the United States from Afghanistan in 2009. The celebration of our return began in Maine at our first stop inside the continental U.S., and then continued in Mosinee, Tomahawk and Rhinelander. I still get emotional thinking back on the day our buses rolled into Tomahawk. I‘ll never forget the moment I laid eyes on my daughters standing on the sidewalk, straining to pick out their father among all of the uniformed soldiers looking back at them through the tinted bus windows, each trying to catch a glimpse of their own families. Wrapping my arms around my girls and burying my face in their hair was the starting point to returning to some semblance of normalcy.
Each year in May, we recognize current and former service-members with Military Appreciation Month, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. We thank our soldiers for sacrificing their lives, wholly and in part, for their fellow citizens and in service of the United States. Memorial Day is the culminating event and the primary focus of this holiday is to pay respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Prior to enlisting, I attended relatively few Memorial Day ceremonies. On those occasions I did attend, I recall recognizing the solemnity of the events, and experiencing a sense of appreciation for those that served. I remember being impressed that people took the time to honor others for their service. Following my enlistment, I have attended a Memorial Day ceremony each year I’ve been able to do so.
For most soldiers, Memorial Day holds more significance after joining the U.S. Armed Forces than it did prior to reciting the oath of enlistment. I suppose that, in part, a “brothers-in-arms” mindset encourages the increased responsiveness I have personally experienced. I also feel that a fuller understanding of what it means to serve has opened my eyes. Service members throughout all of the Armed Forces, whether full-time or “weekend warriors,” have set aside all or part of their personal lives in order to answer a call to duty. For many of us, to have served is our biggest contribution in life
Each of us has their own reasons for participating in Memorial Day events. Many have family members that have served. Others do not but attend out of respect for the sacrifices of their fellow citizens. I and those I have served with attend for those reasons and more. Perhaps the best way for me to illustrate these reasons is to use the Army Values. Loyalty: We are loyal to each other and to our country. I mentioned a “brothers-in-arms” mindset, and in a previous submission I spoke of the “band of brothers” bond that is formed among service members. I have formed bonds with those I have served with that are as strong, and sometimes prove stronger, than the bond of family.
Duty: We believe that as a service member it is our responsibility to take time to recognize others that have gone before us and have paid for our freedom with their lives.
Respect: We have the utmost respect for others that have served. It is a high calling, exemplified by the small percentage of our population that volunteers to serve in the Armed Forces.
Selfless Service: We feel a sense of obligation to remember those who have served and their contribution to the greater good. The selflessness others have displayed as they gave their lives for us deserves nothing less than our undying gratitude. Setting aside one day to do so is a small way to serve in return.
Honor: We feel an immense sense of pride in serving, and pride in our fellow service members.
Integrity: Reliability is a hallmark of military service. We rely on each other to perform our jobs and to watch each other’s back. Do the right thing. That mindset encompasses our commitment to the United States, and to each other.
Personal courage: To a soldier, this means “the ability to face fear, danger, or adversity, both physical and moral courage.” In the context of Memorial Day, personal courage can mean swallowing the difficult memories associated with serving in order to pay respect to others who have served. Painful memories of losses suffered and physical and emotional scars are difficult for many to overcome. For many veterans and families of service personnel, exercising the personal courage to revisit those memories in the process of honoring those that have served is an act of bravery itself.
Memorial Day is many things to many people. It is an opportunity to honor those who have served their country and to honor the fallen. No veteran’s service must be forgotten, and none is meaningless. By taking the oath of enlistment each has sworn “to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies…[and] to bear true faith and allegiance to the same…So help me God.”
May God help us all if we ever fail to remember veterans for their service and if we ever believe that it was “for no reason” that they served.