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Remembering Our Nation’s Gentle Heroes on Memorial Day

As we pause to reflect upon Memorial Day, we remember the many lives of those gone far too soon who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

As Americans, we often recall the great battlefields and engagements of conflicts past, though many of those who lost their lives in our nation’s wars did so on unnamed trails or hills, and in skirmishes or firefights remembered only by those who were there. Wherever they may have been, they and their comrades fought, and died, for each other.

As we continue to make progress against the pandemic and our lives begin to return to normal, let us take more than a moment to remember our neighbors, community members, and what the late U.S. Army Major Michael Davis O’Donnell called “those gentle heroes” who did not return home. Let us also, with equal measure, remember and honor those who love and miss them today.

You may be familiar with the “gentle heroes” poem by Major O’Donnell, who summed up what many Americans feel on Memorial Day in a piece he wrote on New Year’s Day 1970, several weeks before his death in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

If you are able, save them a place inside you,
And save one backward glance when you are leaving,
for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say you loved them,
though you may, or may not have always.
Take what they have left, and what they have
taught you with their dying, and keep it as your own.

And in that time that when men decide, and feel safe,
to call the war insane, take one moment,
to embrace these gentle heroes you left behind.

Let us remember those heroes today and every day.

I hope this finds you and your family safe and well, and that you are happy in each other’s company on this most solemn of our nation’s holidays.