City Administrator John Hamilton retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel in July 2013, having served the last three years of his military career as Garrison Commander at Redstone Arsenal. He reflects on the importance of Memorial Day, as told to City Blog senior writer Mark McCarter:
As Memorial Day arrives, I look back at my 23 years in the Army and reflect on the people with whom I served. I had the privilege of serving with great people who had all raised their right hands and said, “Send me. I will go help on behalf of the greater good.” There is something special about how our military is now formed from 100% volunteers. Remembering that fact brings into sharp focus the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives for our freedom.
I made the decision to serve as an officer in the Army when I was in the 11th grade. That was not based on a single individual mentor or a particular person in history. It was more a sense of all those who came before.
I grew up in a patriotic family, one that was not particularly active in the military, but believed strongly in democracy and freedom and was respectful of that. It sustained me all the way through my time in the service.
I had the opportunity to serve in a number of combat and operational deployments. My first operational deployment was in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While we were there to enforce the peaceful transition from war within the former Yugoslavia, we lost American lives on that mission. That was followed some years later by deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq where our nation’s sons and daughters sacrificed a great deal more.
Memorial Day, like our other patriotic holidays, causes me to stop and reflect on those who gave all in defense of our freedoms. While it is very personal for me because of having served alongside many of these great Soldiers, all Americans should do the same. It is why Memorial Day exists.
Yes, the day has come to serve as the beginning of summer and the day off work affords the opportunity for fun with family. But that isn’t why we as a nation of free people declared it a holiday. We are intended to use it to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to establish and preserve those liberties and freedoms. No, we haven’t perfected our version of democracy. No, we have not fully manifested the liberty described in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution for all people. But the lives of our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters have delivered us to this point and more will be sacrificed as we continue to strive to spread this freedom around the world.
It’s a natural thing for us to want to rest, relax and spend time with family on a day like this. But for our nation to be what it is and what it is intended to be, it’s important that we continue to reflect and remember where we came from. For us to enjoy our freedom and to continue to spread that freedom around the world, we can’t forget the people who got us there. A lot of people have died to make America what it is and a lot of people have died to share that freedom elsewhere. On Memorial Day, remember them.