Memorial Day is when we stand united as one nation to pause and remember. We pause to honor those service members who died while in service to this nation — in service to us all — to preserve and defend our individual freedoms.
Since the Civil War, almost 6,000 Oregonians have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation. On Memorial Day, we honor them and the more than 1.2 million service members who have given their lives.
This year, our agency will, for the first time in three years, have the chance to gather for an in-person Memorial Day ceremony at the Oregon World War II Memorial in Salem. This memorial honors the more than 3,700 Oregonians who gave their lives in World War II. We — as veterans and Americans — who came after them, owe so much for their sacrifice and the peace and stability that they helped secure for the nation and world.
Each and every one of their names is forever engraved on the granite walls that line this remarkable memorial. If you have the chance, I encourage you to visit this site and spend some time reflecting on their sacrifice.
And as you walk any veteran memorial, I urge you to also pause and remember those service members who came before and those who came after. This year’s ceremony is dedicated not to a particular generation of service members or conflict, but to all Oregonians — throughout time — who wore the uniform and, especially, those nearly 6,000 individuals and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms.
Every service member had a story, and many faced additional challenges beyond the common trials and tribulations of war. Some were poor and uneducated. Some were privileged, with college or advanced degrees. Some were working men and women, with spouses and families. Some were 15- and 16-year-olds who lied about their dates of birth to enlist.
Some were Black or mixed race, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian American or Pacific Islander, and they volunteered to serve a country that did not afford them rights or opportunities equal to those of their fellow countrymen and service members at the time of their service. Before the Korean War, our military served in segregated units, and many endured prejudice and bigotry from their own country even as they risked their lives to protect it.
Some of the courageous Oregonians who served and gave their lives in service to our country and whose memories we honor today were women who would not even be recognized as veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces until the 1970s. Others were quietly transgender, gay, lesbian or queer, who grappled with the pain of giving their all to a country that did not want every part of them, that did not allow them to serve openly as their true, authentic selves.
We as a nation and, especially, as veterans who followed in their footsteps, owe an additional debt of gratitude to the brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard members who served under these policies and conditions.
Their courage, selflessness, dignity and exceptional service did much to sway public opinion and pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future.
On this Memorial Day, let us honor the unique loss and pain of each and every one of the 6,000 Oregonians and their families whose sacrifices we remember today.
Words cannot express our gratitude and appreciation for the brave Oregonians who willingly made these sacrifices. The enormity of their courage humbles and inspires us. This day reminds us to be better as individuals, as a community and as a nation. As long as we, as one united nation, remember their sacrifices, their loss will not have been in vain.
The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Statewide Memorial Day Celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, May 30, at the WWII Memorial on the grounds of the Oregon State Capitol Building. For more information or to watch live, visit ODVA’s Facebook page.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Gov. Kate Brown’s policy adviser on veterans’ issues. She is a retired Army officer.