Memorial Day is a time when people all around the country get together for barbecues and quality time with family and friends, but we must always remember the reason for the holiday - remembering those who have given their lives for our country. This morning, I had the honor of being a guest speaker at Garden City's Memorial Day Celebration, where I had an opportunity to reflect on that.
When I think about Memorial Day, I think of my grandfather, Steven Warner. He was a Navy Officer and became a Dentist for the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in the Korean War. He was stationed at Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York but was frequently sent onto Naval Ships to be the ship's dentist. I'm also reminded of my uncle, Tony Armino, who fought in WWII. He always referred to those he served with as his brothers for life.
A moment that will come across many of our minds today is September 11, 2001. Anyone who was old enough to understand what was going on that day likely remembers exactly where they were, and I'm no different. I'm from a town in New Jersey called Ramsey, which is 30 miles from the World Trade Center. At that time, I was in eighth grade and sitting in the second row, three seats in from the left in English class. I remember my assistant principle coming in and asking if anyone had parents who worked in New York City, and then leaving quickly. No one knew what was going on, but we could tell something was wrong due to the amount of classmates being taken out of school. I remember going out for lunch and seeing blue skies, two fighter planes in the air, and smoke coming from the skyline of NYC.
From the moment that attack on our country happened, I knew I wanted to serve my county. The first day of my senior year of high school, I enlisted in the USMC, and 13 days after graduation, I shipped out to Parris Island, South Carolina to begin my journey as a Marine.
After completing boot camp and schooling, I was selected to work on F-18 fighter jets for squadron VMFA-AW-533 in Beaufort, South Carolina. My job was loading ordnance (bombs) onto this amazing aircraft. I thought back to what my uncle said about everyone you serve with being your brother, and it made me think of the hundreds of Marines who work together every day just to get one of those F-18s up in the air.
The bonds and friendships we formed in the USMC continued far after our enlistment and I had the pleasure of working with many of them in Law Enforcement as a State Trooper in South Carolina. Those bonds have often made me think about those who served and are no longer with us, and especially so on Memorial Day.
President Ronald Reagan once said in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 1986, "Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with family and remember."
Each year, our celebrations are in honor of those who aren’t able to attend. I'm blessed to work with many veterans - not only in the field of Law Enforcement, but also in the Fire Departments, hospitals, and even in the communities we all work together to protect and serve. One unique thing about being a military veteran is the fact that you can sit across from a fellow service member and regardless of age, ethnicity, how you were brought up, or where you're from, you'll be able to talk for hours about your experiences while serving, and more importantly, about the brothers and sisters you worked with.
Memorial Day is a day to celebrate for the service members who are unable to tell their story, but are here with us each and every day because we keep their story alive.