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Memorial Day: Honor our fallen heroes by supporting their families

Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard) salute as Taps is heard nearby during 'Flags-in', where a flag is placed at each of the 284,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, ahead of Memorial Day, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., May 25, 2017.
Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard) salute as Taps is heard nearby during "Flags-in", where a flag is placed at each of the 284,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, ahead of Memorial Day, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., May 25, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

This Memorial Day, let’s remember our heroes, and let’s not forget their families. Honoring the fallen men and women of our armed forces breathes life into the sacrifices they willingly made to safeguard our freedom. From World War II to Korea, then Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the war on terrorism, United States’ warriors paid the ultimate price. Their families paid as well.

Sacrificing our time and resources is one of the best ways to demonstrate love to our family. But making the greatest sacrifice for our loved ones demonstrates the greatest love. American heroes gave their lives so that we can live ours freely. This Memorial Day, we must honor their sacrifice by giving our time to honor the fallen, to keep their memories alive.

It is only because of fallen soldiers’ resilience in wartime that we have our freedom in peacetime. We should use that freedom well and never forget where it came from. And as we spend time with our families this weekend, we should remember those families with Gold Stars.

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Families of fallen heroes sacrifice too. The families of those who have died carry their grief forever. They grapple with the universal challenges of losing a loved one — loneliness, empty beds and chairs, financial struggles due to income loss, facing milestones and celebrations with enduring heartache — but along with their grief, families of the fallen carry the weight of losing someone to war. For them, every day is like Memorial Day but without public ceremonies and BBQ feasts. Losing our soldiers carves a deep wound in our communities that often goes unseen.

I’m thankful to go to a university like Pepperdine that actively acknowledges that wound and makes space for us to heal. I’m honored to serve as president of the Pepperdine Veterans Council where I can help keep the memories of our heroes alive through community activities. At events like hikes, day trips and dinners, veterans come together, and we use our freedom for fun purposes and for supporting one another in this new stage of life. At more serious events like Pepperdine’s annual Raising of the Flags and Veterans Day Lunch, we embrace our duty to honor our soldiers. We also partner with American Legion Post 283 at the Pacific Palisades as ambassadors in the community by providing aid for their annual Fleet Week, their monthly social events, and Memorial Day Parade. 

Pepperdine awakened my purpose to be a servant leader like Christ. In my active duty in the Army, I led like a soldier. Pepperdine taught me to lead by asking, "How can I serve and reach you?" I have witnessed firsthand the power student veterans have when we work together, whether it's sharpening our faith, minds or bodies. Iron sharpens iron. 

At Pepperdine, we honor America’s patriots at the Heroes Garden. It is an outdoor chapel that sits at one of the highest points on campus, overlooking the ocean. The Heroes Garden was designed as a permanent reminder of victims who passed and heroes who rose on Sept. 11, 2001. Those who visit the garden will find a beautiful space to sit and reflect, surrounded by stone benches and a peaceful water feature. This time of year, you might even see native poppies spreading over the hillside. You will see Psalm 23 carved in stone as you exit the garden. Amid the green Malibu hillside, beside quiet waters, we refresh our souls and honor the sacrifice of heroes past, present and future.

Memorial Day is also a time for Americans to demonstrate love to the loved ones that will forever have an empty chair around their table. The families of our fallen soldiers must be shown that their nation remembers and commemorates their loved one’s — and their — sacrifice.

I sincerely call all Americans to recall the fallen soldiers’ families. Extend a gracious hand to remind them that their hero is not forgotten. Reach out to Gold Star families. Bring them a meal if you know them, watch their kids, donate towards their children’s college fund, and share memories with them or around them. I personally recommend a handwritten letter. This demonstrates a sincere, thoughtful, and hardworking approach to thanking the family members for their fallen hero’s sacrifice. Encouragement travels long distances, our community needs it more than ever.

The Apostle John asserts, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (NKJV, 1 John 4.7). Be like Christ and love one another to the best of our ability, just like our fallen brothers and sisters who loved us.

Brandon Olson is a U.S. Army Veteran and is the student president of the Pepperdine Veterans Council at Pepperdine University.

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