Last year in this space, we took the opportunity to honor dozens of Fairfax natives who lost their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq during the past decade.
That list grew by one April 23 when First. Lt. Robert J. Hess, a 26-year-old Robinson Secondary School graduate, was killed in Afghanistan after sustaining wounds from indirect enemy fire. Hess, an Army Blackhawk pilot, was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Combat Badge.
This weekend is all about courageous folks such as Lt. Hess who placed everything they had on the line so the rest of us have the freedom to spend their Memorial Day grilling up a burger, mowing the lawn or sitting on the beach.
Another option during the next three days might be a trip to a memorial or two in Washington, D.C.
Although now synonymous with the start of pool season and the end of the school year, Memorial Day’s central purpose remains to remember those who have died in military service — more than 400,000 in World War II, 53,000 in Korea and nearly 60,000 in Vietnam. During the past decade, more than 6,000 U.S. military members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 25 of whom called Fairfax County home.
During the next few days, many Americans will travel hundreds of miles to experience the sights and sounds of Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend. They’ll fly in from places such as Kansas or Ohio or drive up from North Carolina, Tennessee and southwestern Virginia to pay their respects to the men and women who fought and died for our freedom.
Most Fairfax residents live within a 20-minute drive of Constitution Avenue. Have you experienced those same sights and sounds? Have your children? And neighbors?
The chill of the glittering blackness of the Vietnam Memorial wall. The anguish of the Women’s Memorial. And the stark feeling of the Korean War monument so raw that you almost can feel the rain and cold, even on a sweltering 95-degree day.
To really experience the ravages of war, walk among the stones at Arlington National Cemetery. Row after row of small tablets, bearing the names of men and women who died in battle. Be sure to check the birth and death dates. Far too many of the stones and crosses honor soldiers in their late teens or early 20s who stood at the cusp of life when they went down.
Closer to home, the 15th annual Ride of the Patriots is set for Sunday morning. The event, which involves thousands of motorcyclists riding from Fairfax City to the Pentagon in honor of Vietnam veterans as well as servicemen and women who protect our nation today, is among the largest one-day motorcycle events in the country.
During the past 10 years, nearly 200 soldiers and Marines from Virginia have lost their lives in the line of duty.
All gave some; some gave all. Stop to honor them for a few minutes, say thank you, and go off and enjoy your freedoms.