Memorial Day Is Not Just for Remembering the Fallen

Upon his retirement from the game of baseball, Lou Gehrig famously said, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He was wrong. I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

But, I feel incredibly guilty about my title. Because I served my country in Iraq, I have been fortunate enough to have many opportunities come to me now, and thousands more in the future. Others who fought alongside of me are not that lucky. Many veterans who have returned home from theater are struggling with injuries, depression, and poverty. 

Thanks to the Post 9-11 GI Bill, I am fortunate to be able to go to one of the top universities in the country. Because I attend this school in our nation’s capital, I was presented with opportunities to meet the president and the vice president, senators and congressmen, and even Bono and Jon Stewart. Because I attend this school, my eyes have been even more opened up to different struggles people face around the globe. When I finally earn my degree, I will have the world at my feet. 

But, on some levels, I feel guilty about this. Of course, there are many veterans who are in the same situation. However, many more veterans do not have these types of opportunities waiting for them. They struggle with debilitating injuries everyday. Instead of attending a symposium with a United States Senator, some veterans struggle with the very real condition of depression stemming from their time overseas. 

The issue of veteran unemployment has been well documented, as has poverty among vets.  Struggling with finals is a completely different struggle than struggling to put food on your table and paying for basics like water and electricity. Try as they might, the Veterans Administration cannot reach every veteran who is struggling.

My family and friends may not think about this every day, but they are incredibly fortunate as well.  Nearly every day for ten months, I would go out on convoys throughout Northern Iraq. There were times that I can recall that my mates and I cheated death. 

One such instance that I can clearly remember is a mission that I was tapped for in the evening, but at the last minute, as we were preparing to leave the compound, I was pulled off the mission. The person who replaced me was shot in the chest by an enemy sniper. I have talked to many people who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan and their bravery and courage in the face of so much loss and tragedy is inspiring. I am forever grateful that my friends and family will never have to go through the struggles that Gold Star Families do.

Because I am a veteran, I have a unique authority to speak on many issues. In this sense, I am extremely fortunate. But this Memorial Day, of course take the time to pause and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But also remember the families of the fallen.  Remember also those who did come and are struggling with their own personal demons. This includes me.

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Jeff Danovich

Jeff is currently a student at The George Washington University. He is currently working to earn a B.A. in Political Science (and a double minor in International Affairs and Sustainability). Also a veteran, Jeff has served in Northern Iraq in 2003 and 2004. His experiences in Iraq as a Civil Affairs Operator has shown the direct affects of "Soft Power" in the war zone. He believes the keys to overcoming terrorist threats overseas is to win the hearts and minds of the local population. Jeff also is a strong advocate for the environment and is very enthusiastic about what the Department of Defense is currently doing to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly fighting force. A fun fact about Jeff is that his first day of Basic Training in the U.S. Army was September 10, 2001.

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