On this Memorial Day, our heroes show us the values worth fighting for

COVID-19 has sent Americans reeling. We’ve seen things we cannot ignore: the sufferings of our most vulnerable and the understated heroism of our frontline health-care workers.

This weekend our country recognizes heroes of another kind: the men and women who gave their lives to protect our country. Memorial Day is not a “holiday” but a sacred day, particularly for those of us who loved or served with people who “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

What’s the connection between the heartbreak and havoc of the past two months, and Memorial Day? The pandemic and its global chaos have shown the value of American freedoms.

More than a day off, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who remember and mourn those lost to war such as Crispus Attucks, the first black man killed in the fight for America’s freedom.

From Crispus Attucks, the African American who was the first casualty in our fight for independence, to Staff Sgt. Marshal Roberts and Specialist Juan Covarrubias, the most recent Americans killed in action overseas, these American heroes are why our coronavirus experience — in all its messiness — is radically different from that of citizens of China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere.

Americans can criticize our leaders’ management of the crisis without fear of disappearing like Chinese citizen journalists. Our nurses can alert the public to shortages of medical equipment without suspiciously falling out of windows like Russian doctors. Our government cannot force medical teams to work without masks to prop up the fiction that COVID-19 isn’t spreading, as the Iranian regime did to its emergency room physicians.

These are not insignificant matters.

Freedom is easily taken for granted in times of health and prosperity, but becomes paramount in times of societal crisis. We owe a debt of gratitude to the heroes resting in Arlington, Normandy and countless local cemeteries across the country where those lives are honored still.

Many of our fallen servicemen and women have died in remote locales and with little fanfare — especially in the latter years of the post-9/11 era. There is support from the local community, some news coverage, and then the rest of the world inevitably returns to normal life.

But their families don’t. A sudden, uninvited knock at the door changes their lives forever. Memorial Day for them isn’t a federal holiday or a single 24 hours of remembrance — it’s a way of life.

These days, that trauma often plays out far from the public eye. But the visible dedication of our medical personnel during this pandemic, who have chosen a profession of healing and caring despite great personal risk, can provide an insight into the sacrifices of America’s fallen warriors and their families.

They, too, spend days unable to communicate with loved ones, fearing for their safety, before a notification from a stranger brings that experience to its final close. They, too, are deprived of a final goodbye.

Our response to COVID-19 may have been imperfect, but there is still no other country I would rather live in than the United States. And this Memorial Day, perhaps even more than most, we should all take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of our fallen, be grateful for the freedoms they preserved, and pray for peace and solace for their families.

James F. Hasson is a former Army Captain, Afghanistan veteran and the author of “Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors Are Sabotaging America’s Military” (Gateway Editions), out now.

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