Memorial Day is more than a long weekend

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- As we take time to reflect on this Memorial Day, I would like to thank all our forces in Japan for their service to our great Nation.

There are many people who think of this day as the unofficial start of summer with a three- or four-day weekend, but I hope for most it means much more to them than a long weekend.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. It was first officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

As a young man prior to my time in uniform, I associated Memorial Day primarily with those brave warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice during wars such as World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It's different for me now. Today, after 27 years of service, I think about all my comrades and contemporaries in arms who have laid down their life for the cause of freedom, especially those I've served alongside during the last 10 years of combat. I believe we honor them today with our service.

I've heard news reporting state the nearly 6,000 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are small numbers compared to previous wars. It isn't about numbers; it's about the individuals. Each warrior had a mother, father, wife, husband, sons, daughters, family and friends. For those family members and friends, their loved one made a great sacrifice.

If you're fortunate to get some down time with family and friends this Memorial Day, I want you to be safe and enjoy it to the fullest. I'd ask you to also take the time to reflect on those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our Nation. Finally, thanks again for all you do, and it's an honor to serve with you.