Editor's note: The following letter was provided by the office of State Sen. Michael Rush
This Memorial Day, citizens will take time to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country: our nation’s veterans, and those members of the military who currently serve. Observances include solemn ceremonies, parades, and moments of silence so that we, as citizens, can say thank you and be mindful of the sacrifice and selfless service to our nation made by our veterans and their families.
Memorial Day was federally recognized in 1971 to recognize all veterans, but it was originally known as Decoration Day, with the purpose of remembering those who died in the Civil War. Army General John Logan issued General Order #11 in 1868, which called upon Americans to honor the fallen and their families:
Let us gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
According to the Pew Research Center, a smaller share of Americans serves in the U.S. Armed Forces currently than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II. During the past decade, as the military has been engaged in the longest period of sustained conflict in the nation’s history, just one-half of one percent of American adults has served on active duty at any given time. Unlike during prior wars, the United States Military is currently entirely made up of an all volunteer military, many members of which have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times. There are still 90,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen currently serving in Afghanistan. Many of these are Massachusetts service men and women.
Our 6,000 service members have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands have lost limbs and sustained other combat related injuries. As during past wars, there continues to be many issues facing our veterans and their families such as physical and mental health issues, PTSD, high unemployment, substance abuse issues and homelessness. With these tremendous challenges, it is imperative that we continue the vision of General Logan by supporting our veterans and their families in every way possible.
When I served in Iraq with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, I had the honor of serving with the finest service members our nation has to offer. I continue to be amazed by the veterans and their families that I meet throughout our Commonwealth and the stories that they have to share. We, as a state, should be proud that Massachusetts ranks number one in the nation in how we say thank you.
While there will always be challenges in supporting our veterans, I am tremendously proud of my colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature as we recently passed the Valor Act. This legislation ensures that Massachusetts continues to rank at the top in supporting our veterans and their family members. The Valor Act focuses on enhancing job opportunities for veterans; assisting in transition issues from military to civilian life; providing supportive services to families of veterans deceased in action; ensuring that the state remains forward-thinking and focused on the long-term impacts of the current and future climate for our service men and women and their families. It is a piece of legislation that our state should be very proud of.
President George Washington said: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." If it is true that what is past is prologue, than I believe we are on the right path to properly honoring our veterans and their families in a way that General Logan had in mind.
Senator Mike Rush (D-Boston) is the Senate Chairman of the Committee on Veteran and Federal Affairs. He is a Lieutenant in the US Navy Reserves and an Iraq War Veteran.