Memorial Day: Honoring service, sacrifice, and the American spirit

John Hairston, May 24, 2019

When we talk about America, we frequently say sacrifice is a foundation on which our Nation was forged. Generations have fought and sacrificed to keep our country strong, secure, and successful. Their service has stemmed from a selfless sense of duty anchored in patriotism and principle. Nobly embracing their guardianship of a greater good, they have so often given the greatest sacrifice.

 

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This impressive landscape of Arlington National Cemetery serves as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of every individual laid to rest within its hallowed grounds. Photo: Janel Evans

 

On Thursday night, at The National WWII Museum American Spirit Awards gala presented by Hancock Whitney, we celebrated individuals whose works, words, and deeds demonstrate and inspire extraordinary dedication to the enduring values and spirit—including courage, initiative, teamwork, generosity, and sacrifice—of those serving in World War II. This year’s American Spirit Awards seemed especially poignant just days before Memorial Day—a day we pay tribute to those who gave their lives to protect our American life—and just two weeks before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.

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On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 156,000 American, British, and Canadian forces invading a 50-mile stretch of heavily German-fortified French coastline found themselves facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Yet, amid brutal battle conditions unfolding that fateful day, they moved forward. An estimated 6,603 Americans—many still teenagers—and more than 4,000 of our allies died on D-Day. Like so many before and after them, their courage and ultimate sacrifice helped save our United States and the world from rising tyranny.

According to family folklore, my Dad’s first cousin celebrated his 18th birthday on the way to Normandy.  I was told as a lad that his name was Eager Hairston, and he was just that—eager to defend his country.  He survived the advance off the beachhead and was with a platoon at Caen airfield in Normandy as Axis resistance ended. He died at the airfield, the last casualty of the battle of Caen. I’ve always wanted to see that airfield. The week after next, I’ll have the privilege of not only visiting there on the 75th anniversary of D-day but also hearing the stories from actual veterans who were there.

It will be interesting to hear how accurate those old campfire stories from my youth really were. My father was the same as Eager, and I know he will be on my mind during the visit. I intend to take along a couple of hankies for the tour. If time and technology allow, I’ll send back images of real heroes telling their stories 75 years to the day after it happened. What a privilege it will be simply to be in their presence; but all the while they will deny their own heroism, pointing to whom they call the “real heroes.” Those are the men and women we remember on Memorial Day. 

We must remember and honor those lost on D-Day and countless others who have sacrificed all for our fundamental liberties. Every day, we should thank our veterans and active duty military and their families for their service and sacrifices to keep America the home of the free.

May everyone in the communities we serve and across our great country enjoy a safe, peaceful, and pleasant holiday weekend honoring the people who have served and sacrificed for all of us.