Not long ago, somebody asked me to name the hardest thing I’d encountered as governor. I didn’t even have to think before answering. The most difficult, heart-wrenching experiences have been the many funeral services my husband Mike and I have attended to honor the brave Washingtonians who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When you read in the paper or hear on TV that a Washington serviceman or woman has been killed or injured in one of these conflicts, it hurts.
When you witness the pain and loss of the families who have been left behind, it makes it very personal.
I could not be prouder of the way Mike, a Vietnam combat vet, has advocated for veterans as First Gentleman of our state. We have been humbled to console Washington families during difficult times, and these experiences have only strengthened our resolve to see that our nation’s war veterans are properly honored.
An important part of this is seeing to it that veterans and their families receive the care and benefits that they have so bravely earned, including making sure that world-class healthcare and educational opportunities await them upon their return.
The privilege of being your governor allows me the unique honor and responsibility of advocating on behalf of our veterans every day. You can help by taking a moment to think about what you can do in your daily life to help a veteran. Memorial Day has always been a national and state holiday dedicated to honoring our dead, but it has also had a special purpose as a day to honor those who died in war.
Perhaps you’re in a position to visit a veteran in a hospital or rest home or to reflect at the serene Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent or other ceremonies. You may also wish to find another way to pay your respects, but whichever you choose, please take a moment to remember the courage of our men and women in uniform, both past and present.
Each of us can teach our children that veterans have served and sacrificed, since our great nation’s founding — always to keep us free. We can teach them that it is good and noble to honor veterans not just on Memorial Day, but every day.
From the time I was a little girl growing up in Auburn, my mother taught me to honor and respect military veterans. I heard stories about our brave soldiers who fought for our nation. I will never forget them.
A nation that forgets its military veterans — forgets the sacrifices they and their families have made and continue to make — is a nation at risk.
Let’s enjoy this special day; picnics, gardening and relaxing with friends. But let’s not forget that Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have given their lives so that we may live in freedom.
Chris Gregoire is governor of Washington.