With the approach of Memorial Day, I think of my commanding officer Capt. Brian Letendre and listening to his speech during New Britain's Memorial Day observance in 2005.
Capt. Letendre spoke of the history of Memorial Day and the meaning this day holds. He stressed to the crowd gathered that these services were not for him, for me or even for the people in attendance, but for the fallen. He spoke of how, to so many Americans, Memorial Day represents the end of school, the beginning of summer or simply a three-day weekend. He asked the crowd gathered on that sunny day, the young and the old, the veterans and their families, to put those thoughts aside and to remember our fallen for whom this day is set aside. He called upon the parents in the crowd to talk to their children so that they understand the meaning and the importance of Memorial Day.
A year later, Memorial Day would honor my commanding officer. My captain and my friend, Brian Letendre, was killed by mortar fire on May 3, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq.
So, today, I remember Capt. Letendre as a Marine, a friend, a husband and a father. I think of his wife, Autumn, and his son, Dillon, who was only 3 years old — standing on the silent fields of Arlington National Cemetery — when he was handed the folded flag that had draped his father's coffin. For Autumn and Dillon, no one will ever have to tell them of meaning and importance of Memorial Day and of the need to remember the fallen, for memories of their loved one is all they have left.
It is the duty of those of us who attend a memorial service this weekend, or just read this piece, to see that the fallen heroes of our nation are never forgotten, that their service and sacrifice was not in vain. It is our responsibility to remember the fallen of Saratoga and Gettysburg, those who fell on the beaches of countless Pacific islands or perished in the skies above Europe; who died in the jungles of Vietnam and on the dusty streets of Iraq.
Today we pray for those who continue to serve and die in the valleys of Afghanistan. We must teach our children and our neighbors about their sacrifice and let their belief in the ideals and promise upon which this great nation was founded inspire our next greatest generation. We must remember their selflessness and dedication.
As Americans we must not allow the memories of the fallen to be relegated to an annual memorial service, forced to share their day sandwiched between parades and picnics. They have earned so much more than that.
This nation and our freedom, which is taken for granted by too many, was built and is protected by the blood sacrifice of our fallen. Those who have served know that there is no glory in war, no glory dying on a nameless street or hill. The glory for our fallen comes to them and to them alone in knowing they answered their nation's call and sacrificed their tomorrow for their families and for those who bravely stood beside them.
On this Memorial Day, take the time to think of those who have served and more important, those who have fallen in service to our country. It's easy as we go about the business of our daily lives to let the memories of our fallen slip from our thoughts. It's easy to get caught up in our problems and to forget that we, at least, will still have tomorrow to deal with those concerns, and to hold out hope that the next day will be better.
Too many of our brothers and sisters do not have the promise of a new dawn. In answering our nation's call, they have sacrificed their tomorrow so that we can have that promise of another day and of a better tomorrow.
Remember our fallen; remember them today and on all days. Take their memories into your hearts and home, learn from their dedication and their sacrifice, and honor their memories.
M. Randall Collins Jr. of West Hartford served as a corporal in Fallujah, Iraq, from March to October 2006 with Charlie Company 1st Battalion 25th Marines, a reserve unit located in Plainville.