While America is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting havoc and deaths, it is easy to forget about the significance of Memorial Day. Yet, of all the nation’s patriotic holidays, none carries deeper emotion and impacts the lives of ordinary Americans more than Memorial Day.
In his 2020 Memorial Day Message, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy says, “Today we commemorate our country’s most solemn national day of remembrance—Memorial Day. We honor the men and women of our military who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.”
“As you reflect on this day,” says Secretary McCarthy, “remember it has been granted to us by some of the most noble, selfless, and courageous men and women our country has ever produced.”
Memorial Day, he stresses, demands our remembrance: “Of those who laid down their lives in defense of our great nation, all the way back to those who gave their lives to establish it, we remember.”
Each of the millions of American service members who died in war had his or her individual story of sacrifice. Here is one of those stories.
Brent Taylor was a decorated officer in the Utah Army National Guard. He served multiple tours of combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2018, he was in Afghanistan, attached to the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment.
Major Taylor’s job was to train Afghan commandos, who would then be able to work with American forces. He was highly respected by his fellow American officers.
His Afghan trainees also greatly respected him, partly because he went out of his way to spend time with them at their camps. An Afghan Army helicopter pilot called Taylor a “compassionate man whose life was not just meaningful, it was inspirational.”
Indeed, Taylor was an inspirational leader, not just in the Army, but also in his civilian life.
He was an Eagle Scout and had been the student body president at his high school. He was elected to the city council of North Ogden in Utah and then was elected and re-elected as the city’s mayor.
In November of 2018, as he was leading a training hike near Kabul, he was shot and killed in an insider attack by one of the Afghan soldiers he was leading. Major Brent Taylor was 39 years old and still the mayor of North Ogden. He was the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal.
I never knew Major Taylor, but I know his wife Jennie, the mother of their seven children.
When Brent’s remains were returned to the United States, Jennie recalled to Time magazine: “To say that our hearts are anything but shattered would be nothing short of true deceit. And yet, to deny the sacred honor that it is to stand that close to some of the freshest blood that has been spilt for our country would be an absolute blasphemy.”
She told a local television station: “Freedom isn’t free, but it’s worth it and I hope that everyone who hears of this story, or has a fallen soldier, that all of us can feel we are part of something so much more. My biggest message, I think Brent’s biggest message, is we all try and do our part. Some gave all but all could give some.”
Poignantly, she said, “If Brent had known he needed to die for our country, he still would’ve gone and served our country.”
To Gold Star family members such as Jennie Taylor, Secretary McCarthy says, “We, along with a grateful nation remain inspired by your remarkable strength and fortitude.”
“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay,” observes McCarthy. “For all of us who walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us, it is our responsibility, our duty, and even our privilege to honor their sacrifice.”
Because Americans have had to make sacrifices during this COVID-19 crisis, it should make each of us even more aware of and thankful for the ultimate sacrifice paid by brave service members like Brent Taylor. And that is why Memorial Day 2020 should carry special meaning for us all.
Lance Izumi is the senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.