Memorial Day is our nation’s commemoration of the sacrifices made by those whose lives were put on the line for the freedoms we hold sacred.
Whether our veterans survived their military service, or were lost on the field of battle, our country owes each of them, and their families, a debt of gratitude.
I am not a veteran. In the summer of 1970, the year of the nation’s second draft lottery, my birthday, June 26th, had number 308 drawn. For those not aware of the significance of that, my birthday could have come up No. 1 or 365. I was fortunate to be so far down the list, and therefore assured to be free from the call up to the Vietnam War.
One of my closest friends drew No. 6, another the low 20’s. Both were ineligible for student deferment and were drafted. One was sent to duty at a NATO base in Europe because he had strong language skills, the other was deployed to Vietnam where he was seriously wounded in 1971 and sent home. He never fully recovered from his neck, shoulder and arm wounds.
As we look back at the wars proposed by presidents, declared by Congress, and supported to varying degrees by our citizens, let’s remember that none of these conflicts was or, to this day, is immune from political and social controversy. But we should never confuse debate over military policy with the need to be respectful of those whose lives are at risk on the battlefield, in the air, or on the seas.
Our nation has been the destination of choice for great waves of immigrants from the world’s most frightening and repressive nations. My father and maternal grandparents were three of those immigrants, and perhaps your family has its story of freedom-seeking relatives. That freedom was earned, bled for, and in many cases, died for.
Memorial Day presents the chance to gather our thoughts and honor the military service of our parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Individuals who either volunteered or were drafted, wore the uniform of our armed forces, and gave all or a portion of their lives in service to our nation and its allies.
In honor of those we’ve lost, let’s not be passive about the importance of their sacrifice. In their honor, let’s pledge to participate in these citizenship activities:
• Register, vote, and urge others to do the same. Democracy demands active dedication!
• Communicate with elected officials about issues affecting families, including military families. Remember, our elected officials work for us!
• Share your thoughts in the media by writing letters to the editor and interviewing with reporters. Media is our most cost-effective megaphone.
• Motivate youth to exercise their voice in matters which affect them. The next generation of advocates needs good role modeling.
• Confront those who think that complaining about problems is sufficient. Whining is not as good as winning!
• Promote community leadership and promote active involvement by friends, colleagues and neighbors as volunteers, whom I call “time philanthropists.”
• Support causes which focus on advocating positive change. Being a spectator doesn’t produce progress.
Please join me in exercising our rights as we move forward to advocate a better quality of life for all members of our community.
Generations to come are counting on us.
Jack Levine is a family policy advocate who runs the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee.