Whether it was an accident of fate or a sign of some deeper connection, one thing I know happened on Monday was this: I made my first visit to Sugar Land Memorial Park on Memorial Day.
And while that visit did not coincide with the ceremony the City of Sugar Land had held earlier that day, I was able to solemnly reflect on the brave men and women who have served our country with honor and dignity until their very last breath as I walked past the Sugar Land Remembrance Tower, which commemorates those who have served for every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
I continue to grapple with something I am confident most Americans have weighing on their conscience whenever the last Monday in May is upon us, and that is: What is an appropriate way to commemorate this holiday? Do those of us who are proud of our relatives who have served honorably in the military, but who did not die in combat, have extra responsibility to be sensitive and tactful toward those who have experienced a grief we do not know?
There have been a few watershed, landmark moments in my life where I have gained a brief semblance of clarity in attempting to answer these complicated questions. One of them was in the summer of 2016 after midnight on the East Coast, stumbling out of an UberPool ride after a redeye Megabus ride from Philadelphia to Washington.
In the darkness, I wandered around the National Mall, and came upon a stunning vista of the Washington Monument, blissfully still in the reflecting pool. The gravity of how fragile our way of life is and the ease with which we take for granted the effort and resources spent to defend it washed over me.
Two years later, I found myself on the northern coast of France, starting in Le Havre, the gateway to the English Channel and the principal port of entry for U.S. and Allied forces during World War II. I produced a short video of that trip, overlayed with audio from a tape from my grandfather, a World War II veteran who served in the Army as a quartermaster who helped provide aid to civilians and Allies across France and the European Theater. I still get chills hearing him admit how prescient his father — an immigrant who never spoke English — was when he observed the geopolitical calamity and humanitarian catastrophe of World War I and predicted that each of his four sons would eventually serve in the military in some form or fashion.
I have uncles on both sides of my family who served in Vietnam, one of whom was a Marine and a helicopter mechanic.
I cannot fathom what they saw, the brothers they lost in battle, or the horrors of war that they witnessed. And for my part, I will resolve to continue researching the history of my relatives who served and to place their contributions, small though they may have been in the grand scheme of things, in the context of my social sphere.
I would encourage other people to do the same, and to support veterans returning from combat and to patronize veteran-owned businesses.
And there is no more appropriate setting to put politics aside, and to respect the first amendment rights of any active-duty or retired service member to conscientiously object to an armed conflict, like Pat Tillman, a former Arizona State University football player and NFL player who gave up a career in pro sports to serve his country after 9/11.
True patriotism is not conditional, and it is possible to love one’s country and disagree on principle in the arena of foreign policy and the wars that begin often with the best, purest intentions of defending liberty and freeing the oppressed.
Within the last five years, there have been 26,000 veterans who have called Fort Bend County home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Countless others got their start here, and dedicated their lives to preserving our right to grow and develop this beautiful, thriving cross section of America.
I know we have not always lived up to our ideals as a nation, and that as a student of history, I hope to do my best to recognize areas where we are falling short before the problem becomes too daunting. Some veterans are even neglected posthumously as their legacy fades away along with the memories of them shared with those closest to them.
I think we all have a lot to learn to better understand and respect those who have sacrificed everything to protect our futures, and I look forward to continuing that conversation and learning about your friends and family whose contributions will live on in eternity as building blocks of our society.