President’s Memorial Day Message: In Uncertain Times, We Must Also Honor and Remember

President’s Memorial Day Message: In Uncertain Times, We Must Also Honor and Remember
(Photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

Memorial Day events at Arlington National Cemetery this year will be limited to a private ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.


Many other ceremonies around the nation will see adjustments and changes, including cancellations. For many, this means an even heavier heart as they attempt to honor the fallen without relying upon time-honored traditions. It’s one more sign of “these unprecedented times” – a statement that has, unfortunately, become cliché.


The methods may change, but the message remains the same. We pay tribute to those who’ve sacrificed in service to our nation. We offer support to the families they’ve left behind. Above all, we pause and we remember – not just those close to us we’ve lost, but the generations of servicemembers who came before.


Our pent-up demand for “back to normal” is set to burst, but calm must prevail as our nation flexes to reopen and release from stay-at-home proclamations. Instead of gathering together for these moments of remembrance, we may reflect alone, or meet online to commune in spirit, if not in person.


Our customs take a backseat to safe behaviors and social distancing still needed in many places. Our duty is to protect others first and before our own self-interests. The fighter pilot in me is wired to want to return to action, but I see the merit to being prudent rather than merely courageous.


I have recently heard from many their greatest fear is bringing the virus to someone they love and unintentionally hurting them. So, we follow our community guidelines. We strive to keep our families and neighbors safe. We honor the health care workers and others at the front of this fight – including thousands of servicemembers, past and present – for their bravery and sacrifice.


Yes, these are unprecedented times. But soon, we will return to our traditions. We will share in our reflection and in our patriotism. We will come together to honor our fallen. So, even under these circumstances, we can privately and collectively honor the legacy of true American heroes…men and women who answered a calling beyond the normal duties of everyday life, who gave more than is expected or required, who shouldered the burden of fear and sacrifice, and who did so without thought of fame or fortune.  Until then, on this Memorial Day, amid this pandemic, make time to remember.


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About the Author

Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret)
Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret)

Atkins served as the ninth president of MOAA, leaving office in January 2023.