Memorial Day is America’s day of remembrance that was originated to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression if you like grits, sweet tea and NASCAR). By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the armed forces of the United States.
The holiday is usually celebrated with local services and decoration of veterans’ graves with flowers and well-earned American flags that say “a hero is present.” However, a recent event in Texas although not on the traditional last Monday in May, honored the fallen warrior and SEAL Chris Kyle, speaks to the heart of why we honor our lost men and women who took up arms to defend this nation and lived a life of service that ended far too soon.
Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL who went through some of the toughest training in the military and became an accomplished operator and successful sniper, much of which was discussed in Chris’ book, American Sniper. As fitting of his selflessness, 100% of the proceeds of his book went to two of the SEAL families who had lost their sons in Iraq. After he left the Teams, Chris formed Craft International to help train military, police and other first responders on how to protect themselves in combat situations. He also formed a foundation to work with military people suffering from PTSD. As part of this effort to help fellow warriors, Chris, along with a friend and neighbor Chad Littlefield, were murdered while trying to help a disturbed young man that had served six months in Iraq.
His funeral was to be in Austin while his memorial service was to be in Midlothian, a couple of hundred miles away. In a demonstration of incredible and unadvertised generosity, Southwest Airlines flew in any SEAL and their family who wanted to attend free of charge while the local Marriott Hotel reduced their rates for the hundreds of SEALs attending, with the Midlothian Police Department picking up further costs for the visiting Frogmen. Baseball great Nolan Ryan sent a cooking team, a huge grill and lots of steaks, chicken and hamburgers to feed the gathered warriors and their families.
The next day was the 200-mile procession from Midlothian to Austin for burial. Dozens of police motorcycles, chartered buses and cars—as well as two helicopters that circled the procession with snipers sitting out the side door for protection—made the longest funeral procession ever in the state of Texas. The route was lined with people the entire way; there were firemen down on one knee, police officers holding their hats over their hearts, children waving flags and veterans saluting in the cold, drizzling rain. The cortege was greeted by fire trucks with the Stars and Stripes displayed from their extended ladders on every overpass for the entire 200 miles. At the funeral service at the Texas National Cemetery, each of the hundreds of SEALs present strode purposefully one at a time to affix the triple pins of his Trident to the top of Chris’ casket, most with a single, audible slap until the coffin was covered in the gleaming gold of dozens of SEAL badges.
The absent media was not missed because these men do not serve for publicity, fight for fame or sacrifice for self-aggrandizement. Chris, like the warriors who did not make it home from Pickett’s Charge, the advance through Belleau Woods, the coral reefs of Tarawa, the forests outside Bastogne, the frozen hell of the Chosin Reservoir, the highlands of Khe Sanh, the deserts of Kuwait or the street fight for Fallujah, are satisfied with having just one day—Memorial Day—to call their own.
We at Harris Tactical Group wish everybody a great Memorial Day 2013 and join those who will take a moment on this Memorial Day to place a flag on a warrior’s grave, or caress the Vietnam Wall in reverence to honor their sacrifice, or simply take a moment to render and hold a misty-eyed salute for those who gave all so we can live free—knowing that thousands of great and brave men like Chris are smiling, saying “you are welcome” and saluting back.