All of us should honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day

Learn more about Michael Bailey.
Michael Bailey
Senior Program Manager, Leadership Programs
George W. Bush Institute

America is the strongest nation, democracy, and force for good in the world. But we are not the country we are today by happenstance. Rather, we are who we are because of our people.  

Our greatness lies in the freedoms we each have to be who we want to be, hold our own religious beliefs, and strive to be the best version of ourselves, excelling in our respective passions and talents. These are privileges many in this world cannot claim – but they come at a high cost. 

Since World War I, over half a million service members have made the ultimate sacrifice. Most recently, more than 7,000 died in the Global War on Terror. On Memorial Day each year, our nation has the opportunity to come together and honor the great service and commitment of those who gave all. 

The privileges and freedoms we have as Americans wouldn’t be possible without the United States Armed Forces and those who accept the call to service. The idea that citizens freely and voluntarily commit to something greater than themselves and willingly lay their lives down to protect our country is quite remarkable. It’s perhaps one of the greatest examples of democracy in practice. 

As a civilian, I’ve always been immensely grateful for the military community. I’ve been fortunate to work with those who are leading incredible initiatives and outcomes for our nation’s veterans and their families through the George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, which strives to increase the impact and develop the skills of those who serve our nation’s veterans.  

This Memorial Day, I think of some of our alumni like Jennifer Ballou. An Army veteran herself, Jennifer became a Gold Star spouse when, on June 24, 2010, Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo was killed in action in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Jennifer came into the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program looking to advance support and impact opportunities for Gold Star family members. Today, she does just that through her work as Chief of Staff at the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. 

Memorial Day has always been a day on which I share my gratitude with those who served as a tribute to their fallen comrades. I encourage you to do the same this year.  

You may be wondering how you can meaningfully honor this Memorial Day. It’s easier than you might think. 

Communities around the country will be hosting various memorial services and tributes to honor the fallen, and I encourage you to research events you may be able to join or volunteer in your local community. Perhaps you could visit a National Cemetery and place American flags at gravesites.  

Perhaps you would like to honor specific service members on Memorial Day. Resources like Honor The Fallen and The Wall of Faces provide a database of service member deaths and give you an opportunity to learn more about the personal stories of those killed in service. 

You may personally know a Gold Star family member in your community. If that is the case, I encourage you to surround them with love and support. Our Gold Star family members carry the legacy of their loved ones who were killed in service. This day is a reminder for the need to provide a sense of community these families need and deserve, showing them that the sacrifice their loved one made was not in vain and will not be forgotten.  

Less than 1% of the American population currently safeguards the rest of us by choosing to serve in our Armed Forces. Not everyone who makes that decision comes home. Yet without their dedication to country, we wouldn’t be the America we are today. As civilians here at home, we must not forget their commitment.  

America is greater because of those who are called to serve. Join me in honoring the incredibly honorable service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms this Memorial Day.