Opinion: How I Discovered the Meaning of Memorial Day

By Chip Reid   

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but for most of my life the only thing special about Memorial Day was the fact that it was a day off from school or work.   

Like most Americans, I grew up in a family with little connection to the military. I was a few years too young to be caught up in the Vietnam draft, and while one grandfather fought in World War I, I never heard him speak about it.   

Now, Memorial Day is one of the most important days on my calendar.   

My conversion from Memorial Day agnostic to disciple began gradually. After moving to D.C. in the 1980s, I felt drawn to the serene beauty of Arlington National Cemetery. I was awed by the courage of the men and women honored there.   

My full baptism came in 2003 when, as an NBC News correspondent, I volunteered to be a journalist embedded during the invasion of Iraq.   

It was easily the most extraordinary, jaw-dropping experience in my decades-long career in TV news. I was stunned to witness young Marines making instantaneous life-and-death decisions, at an age when my toughest decisions were whom to invite to the high school prom and what courses to take in college. 

I developed enormous respect for those Marines and their devotion to something bigger than themselves. At the time, they didn’t question why they were there. They did their duty. They answered the call.   

My respect for them only increased two decades later while writing my recently published book “Battle Scars,” which describes how their experience in combat changed their lives. I interviewed dozens of the Marines I had been embedded with, along with many of their wives and grown children. After each lengthy interview, I was emotionally exhausted. Many had struggled mightily with PTSD, a prominent cause of which was almost always the survivor’s guilt resulting from the loss of their Marine brothers.  

This Memorial Day, I’ll be in Southern California where, at dawn, I’ll attend a ceremony at Camp Pendleton honoring U.S. Marines who lost their lives in Iraq (and the way-too-many who took their own lives after coming home). In the afternoon, I’ll be at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, emceeing a ceremony honoring Marines who met a similar fate in Afghanistan.  

If you think Marines are too tough to cry, think again. The last time I attended one of these ceremonies, there was a veritable flood of tears for their fallen brothers.  

One stop I’ll be sure to make at Camp Pendleton is the Veterans Memorial Garden, where a plaque begins with these words: “They say that a man dies twice: first when he leaves his body — and second, when his name is spoken for the last time.”  

On this Memorial Day, let’s remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope their names will never be spoken for the last time.  

TV journalist Chip Reid is the author of “Battle Scars.” 




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