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Heath Hansen at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten

Humbling Reflections on Memorial Day

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Precious time is the most valuable thing any of us will ever possess.

by Heath Hansen

As I reflect on what today’s holiday means, and remember the sacrifices so many American servicemen and servicewomen made for my freedom, I’m humbled. I think about the buddies I lost – the guys I knew personally – and how they are no longer with us. I think back to the moments that I found out they had been killed; I realize, sitting here today, how much time has passed since they were taken.

That time, that precious time, is the most valuable thing any of us will ever possess. It’s been nearly 20 years since I joined the Army, and it was shortly after I began my career, that their sacrifices began to tally.

READ MORE from Heath Hansen: An Infantryman Comes Home From War

During my time as a paratrooper, I was young, and the gravity of these deaths was hard to quantify. I knew they had passed, but the significance of their absence didn’t hit me until much later in life; a period when time began to have true meaning to me.

These were men, many of them in their early 20’s, taken too early. I think about the trips they never took, the universities they never graduated from, the careers they never built. I think of the retirements they never reached, the birthdays they never celebrated, the spouses they never married, as well as the sons and daughters they never held. I think of the time they never had.

Today, I’m in Europe, visiting an American cemetery in South Holland. I stare across the steppe, marked with white, marble crosses, protruding reverently from the grass. There are more than 8,000 of them, erected for the thousands of American soldiers killed near Margraten during World War II. I gaze up at the chapel tower and read the inscription:

EACH FOR HIS OWN MEMORIAL

EARNED PRAISE THAT WILL NEVER DIE
AND WITH IT
THE GRANDEST OF ALL SEPULCHRES
NOT THAT IN WHICH
HIS MORTAL BONES ARE LAID
BUT A HOME
IN THE MINDS OF MEN

A poignant tribute to these brave men who gave their futures for my freedom.

Memorial Day is an opportunity for me to reflect on the sacrifices made by American servicemen and servicewomen since the founding of this great country two and a half centuries ago. While I tend to concentrate on the soldiers I knew personally, I realize there are millions of others who made the same sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, over the decades.

Today, when I celebrate the holiday with my family and friends, I will take a moment to remember what this day is truly about, and how, in some ways, the most significant thing we have in this life, is time.

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