Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, has become a carefree day to decompress, a time for picnics and beach outings and backyard barbeques. Or to take a road trip over the long holiday weekend. Few think of its deeper meaning, and if they do, they sometimes confuse it with Veterans Day, when we honor all those who have served the nation in uniform.
At the United States Military Academy at West Point, the primary officer training source for the Army’s future officers, it is impossible to miss the meaning of Memorial Day: It is the day to honor those who served and didn’t make it home. Some of my West Point classmates, men and women no older than I, fall into this category. They have withstood the arduous training, gone off to deployments overseas and paid the ultimate price. Let me tell you about a couple of them.
• David Rylander played nose guard for his company’s intramural football team. I played center for mine. We went up against each other on the gridiron. Rylander graduated from the academy in 2011, received his commission as a second lieutenant and was sent to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. Rylander was trained as a combat engineer. Among other things, they clear the road ahead of improvised explosive devices so their unit can proceed to where they are going;. He was performing that task on May 2 when a roadside mine exploded.
They brought him home in a flag-draped coffin, first to Dover, Del., then to his home state of Ohio. At the chapel of the University of Akron Campus, mourners watched a slide show of his life. In all of the photos, the newspaper reported, he invariably smiled. He was proud to serve. At the service for Rylander, where the mourners included his mother, father, two brothers and a sister, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Dahl talked of the respect that Rylander’s platoon had for him, and about the devotion he had to his family, always finding time to communicate with them, no matter what the challenges in Afghanistan.
2nd Lt. David Rylander was 23 when he died..
• Jordan Morris mentored me when I first came to the academy. I was a freshman. He was a sophomore. After his schooling, he was sent to Afghanistan, serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. On Aug. 11 last year, two months into his deployment, Morris and four others were killed when their vehicle rolled over an explosive device in Kandahar province.
Morris’ remains were returned to Oklahoma, where he grew up and attended Ripley High School, near Stillwater. It’s where his father served on the school board and where he made high school valedictorian before heading off to the academy to fulfill a dream. Oklahomans packed a high school performing arts center in Stillwater to honor his memory. On an online guestbook, friends and strangers thanked his parents, Brett and Nita Morris, for raising an exceptional young man. Spc. Jordan Morris was 23.
To honor his sacrifice in my own way, I wear a memorial bracelet that lists his name, rank, date of death, where he was killed and home state.
This Monday, I will be thinking about him and Rylander and the other servicemen and women who have died serving these United States. Let’s not let their sacrifices be forgotten.
Second Lt. Michael Shepherd, from Miami Shores, graduated from Chaminade-Madonna College Prep and West Point and is currently serving as reconnaissance scout platoon leader at Fort Stewart, Ga. He is in 6-8 Cavalry Squadron, 4th Brigade, Third Infantry Division, with 20 soldiers in his platoon. Monday at 9 a.m., he will give a Memorial Day speech at Memorial Park in Miami Shores.