There’s a serenity about Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a peaceful place. It’s where I choose to celebrate Memorial Day.
Some might feel it is an odd expression to say someone celebrates Memorial Day. This is the day, of course, set aside to memorialize those who have fallen in war defending our nation. Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60 is where many of those men and women who fought and died in Iraq, Afghanistan and other far-flung places in the War on Terror are buried.
It is where they are at rest. Arlington National Cemetery is where I know too many names etched on the white marble headstones. It is 639 acres of ground sanctified by the blood of our nation’s warriors dating back to the Civil War. This ground, and the hundreds of national cemeteries around the country and overseas, is where millions will pause, remember these men and women and take stock of what they fought so bravely to preserve.
We visit their final resting places but hold them in our memories and in our hearts. That’s where they live. I celebrate them for the indelible mark they made on my life and the devotion to our nation’s highest ideals.
They are Marines with whom I served. I lived with them. I laughed with them. I struggled through dark days with them. And now, I celebrate them.
They were men like Major Doug Zembiec, known as the “Lion of Fallujah” who stood on tanks in the middle of battles to direct fire into buildings so his Marines could advance. Buried here too is Master Sgt. Aaron Torian, a Marine Special Operator who I came to know in 2006 when he patrolled areas south of Fallujah that were wrought with danger. There’s also Major Megan McClung, a marathoner who organized a forward-deployed Marine Corps Marathon race, complete with medals for the finishers.
They are among the dozens and dozens of men and women we pause to remember. I celebrate them.
Nothing negates the loss of these warriors. Time heals, but the absence lingers. There are moments for that. That’s not where I remain. I choose to celebrate them.
I celebrate that such men and women lived. They truly lived life to its full potential. They poured out their hearts for their nation they loved. They fought valiantly on the field of battle and they honored the ideals and promise of our nation with their sacrifice.
Many of us in the firearm industry know this. Many of us have worn our nation’s uniforms and ran to the sound of gunfire. We’ve mourned the days we lost men and women like these. Those were hard days, carrying flag-draped transfer cases aboard aircraft to be sent home one final time.
Especially those of us in the firearm industry, we know how truly fortunate we are to have such men and women among us. We are blessed that they stood to be counted and those who served alongside them know how much better we are because of them.
That’s why on Memorial Day, I invite you to celebrate them too. I invite you to be recognize the gift of freedom they preserved for our nation. Take a moment to honor that sacrifice and weigh the cost of the freedom we enjoy.
Then celebrate that such men and women lived.
Mark Oliva is Director, Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.