Every Memorial Day, we remember those who died during active military service. But the day gives us a special opportunity to serve those who serve us.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 42 million American men and women have served during wartime. Nearly 1.2 million died while serving. Nearly 1.5 million were wounded.
Since 9/11, nearly 7,000 U.S. service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 50,000 have been wounded — many have debilitating injuries and mental challenges that have changed their lives forever.
We may debate the rightness or wrongness of various engagements, but we know that freedom comes at a steep price - and we honor those who have secured it for us.
But we can do more. We can serve them back.
“There are many small things people can do that can make a world of difference,” said Jerry Newberry, assistant adjutant general at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Such as assisting the family of a service member who has been deployed.
“Family members go through a long period of wondering, worrying and waiting,” said Newberry. “But they still need to deal with the car breaking down, a child getting sick, a death in the family. If you know of such families, reach out to them.”
Or write an e-mail or letter. The troops — particularly those recuperating in military hospitals — love receiving e-mails, letters and care packages. You can do so at amillionthanks.org.
Donate time. Your local Veterans Affairs office, VFW and other legitimate organizations are in desperate need of volunteers.
Organize a toy drive for children of deployed soldiers. Support the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Provide gift cards to troops through aafes.com.
Donate money. You can give to a variety of needed services for military members - or support the Red Cross to provide basic necessities to service members in military hospitals. Go to vfw.org and click on “Donate” or “Troop Support.”
Lori Felix at Military.com offers additional suggestions that are simple and inexpensive. One is to volunteer to place flags on the grave sites of fallen servicemen and women. Your local American Legion or VFW will have the details.
Felix writes that holiday weekends can be challenging times for those who are serving away from home. She suggests contacting the community relations office at your local military base to invite a service member or two to dinner.
Or do something kind for a wounded vet. The Walter Reed National Military Center has a Facebook page that provides inspiration and ideas for brightening a wounded vet’s day.
CNN offers some great suggestions.
Some disabled veterans are unable to drive. You can volunteer to give them a ride to their medical appointments at Disabled American Veterans (dav.org).
You can donate your frequent flyer miles so that family members can travel to the bedside of a hospitalized service member. That can be done through the Fisher House Foundation’s Hero Miles Program (fisherhouse.org).
CNN reports that more than a third of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan “have or will experience post-traumatic stress disorder.” The Puppies Behind Bars program trains companion dogs for veterans with PTSD. You can sponsor a dog at puppiesbehindbars.com.
Hey, Memorial Day is upon us. What better time to serve the men and women who have served, or are serving, us?
Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood," a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a nationally syndicated columnist.