Decide for yourself this Memorial Day

  • Published
  • By Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe Chignola
  • 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron
Perhaps you have trained years for this singular moment; a moment in time where all of your focus, knowledge, morals, beliefs, ideology, and bravery become concentrated into a decision. Maybe this is a decision that could mean life or death for thousands of lives, your teammates' or simply your own. This could be a decision that could mean either the rousing triumph or the utter failure of a nation's freedoms and fortunes. Maybe that decision is to simply wake up and do your job that day, and that decision is the fulcrum between life and death. The aspirations of a nation of over 300 million, your home state, your hometown, or your long-suffering family at home, become fixated into an instant of will.

Memorial Day is for those courageous individuals that have made those decisions, putting service to their nation, and the constitution that binds it, ahead of their own life.

"Memorial Day for me is a time to stop and reflect on the freedoms that we Americans enjoy day in and day out," said Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Hill, first sergeant, 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron.

"Of course, these freedoms are not free; they came at great cost to many Americans. When our nation called, these fine Americans answered that call and as a result many paid the ultimate price," Hill added.

What originally began as a way to memorialize the fallen combatants of the Civil War, Memorial Day has through tradition and law rightly transformed into a holiday celebrating the lives of all 1,321,612 (and counting) fallen American warriors in our nation's history. Some of those in that brave host are individuals you or your team members have known personally.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Aguilar, communication systems operator with the 962nd AACS, knows what it means to carry in his heart the magnitude of the valiant decisions his teammates have made.

"I was tragically shown what true sacrifice was, and why we celebrate Memorial Day," Aguilar said. "On April 27, 2013, I had completed my final flight in theater as a sensor operator on the MC-12 aircraft, and I knew that in four days I would be home. However, not long after my flight, our deployed Commander explained to us that there had been a report of a plane crash and that we had lost communication with one of our aircraft, Independence 08. The crew had perished in the crash."

Aguilar continued, "I had interacted with the four crewmembers that very day before they stepped to their mission, individuals I had worked closely with and cared for. So, as I enjoy Memorial Day, I reflect on the crew of Independence 08 and what they taught me. They taught me that no matter which branch of service and what job we choose, we as American military members volunteer to potentially sacrifice our lives for each other."

Decisions like these rest on the shoulders of the men and women who have voluntarily laid down their personal freedoms, livelihoods, mental and physical health and even their very lives for service to a cause greater than the individual. Place yourself in their boots, and solemnly consider what those decisions mean to you. On Memorial Day we celebrate as a nation, as states, as cities, as families and as individuals these cumulative decisions made with tears and blood, these brief moments in time upon which our Republic was crafted, paid at the ultimate cost. The citizens of America, and the military members that defend them, truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

"Serving in the US Military has been part of my family for generations. Great-grandfathers, grandfathers, uncles, my father, and now myself, have served in all services," explained Air Force 1st Lt. Benjamin Kretzer, air weapons officer, 962nd AACS.

"I never got to meet my grandfather," Kretzer added. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. John Kretzer was a B-29 pilot in World War II, stationed just south of the Japanese mainland when he was shot down returning from a raid on Tokyo one week after his son was born.

"We always take time on Memorial Day to remember him and all those who made the ultimate decision to give their lives for ours. You don't have to have a direct connection to someone in the armed services to take time on Memorial Day to remember those who died protecting the freedoms we have as Americans," the younger Kretzer said.

Though America has no established state religion, this does not prevent her citizens from uniting in fervent ceremony, a civil religion if you will, as they do for Memorial Day. Such a heady concept like self-sacrifice in the name of our founding principles empowers the American people to bind together despite a widely disparate mixture of personal beliefs, political talking points, and professions. It is through the decisions of those that went before us that Americans, and those currently serving in the armed forces, are able to enjoy the freedom and prosperity we sometimes take for granted.

Hill concluded, "We military members owe our veterans a debt of gratitude. An author once wrote 'I have only had the opportunity to touch the stars because I stand on the shoulders of giants', and during this Memorial Day I for one will be remembering the giants that scarified so much for this country."

Today, make it your decision to remember the heroic decisions of giants like John Kretzer, going out to fly, fight, and win, knowing they would probably not return. Today, make it your decision to stand in solemn reverence of the fateful decisions that crews like the crew of Independence 08 make each day when they fly into combat.

Today, make it your decision, with reverence and pride, to reflect on each of those 1,321,612 giants who decided that your life was worth more than their own.