It really doesn’t matter which branch of the U.S. Armed Services you join. They all seem to start the same way. You step off a bus and onto yellow footprints to start your journey. Those yellow footprints are there to guide you, to give you a landing spot and show you which direction to face. They provide a brief moment of calm. For what happens next, service members never forget.
Young men and women stand on those footprints confident that they’ve made the right decision to join the military, confident that they can accomplish whatever goal they set for themselves, confident that they understand the world and their place in it.
Then, the drill instructors arrive.
With drill instructors screaming in their faces, the recruits suddenly can’t remember their own names. They find the world spinning out of control and they need those footprints to stay grounded. Before they know it, their hair is gone and they have been separated from everything that reminds them of being a civilian – of being the person they used to be.
At exactly this point every recruit thinks the same thing: What have I done? What did I just get myself into?
With Memorial Day coming this weekend, I’ve been thinking a great deal about those who have served our nation, and what it means to serve others. In the military, from the moment you step onto the yellow footprints, you begin to learn that service to others is one of our most treasured characteristics.
Examples of this dedication, this selfless service to others, are everywhere. It is in the hearts and minds of countless service members who have given their all to serve others, and in so doing, have made life better for each of us.
Retired Fort Bragg Police Chief Joe Mayberry is one of those who used the lessons of his military service to shape the rest of his life. At the start of World War II, Joe was 16 when he joined the Navy. He traveled the South Pacific through torpedo attacks and kamikaze pilots to serve his country. He later taught his sons that serving a cause with integrity was one of the most important traits a person can have.
After the war, Joe returned home, married his sweetheart, started a family, finished high school and college, and served others with pride, as a law enforcement officer. Living by example, he shared the lessons of his military experience – that service to others comes before serving ourselves.
Sometimes that desire to serve comes thorough the toughest lessons of life. One Cold-War veteran literally ran across the East German border with communist guards chasing him. He made his way to America to enjoy a freedom he never had as a young boy.
And, after getting to America, he joined the military to give back to a Country who gave him freedom; a gift we often take for granted. He reminds me often, how important it is to give back to others, and to appreciate the gift of freedom we in America enjoy.
Many veterans come home and, having learned the same lessons, dedicate themselves to serving others. I know a Vietnam-era Marine Corps Medic who selflessly volunteers his time to help others, yet he is always available when I call to ask questions. He often reminds me of what it means to care deeply for those we lead; to put service before self.
Another example is a young man who served two tours of combat in Iraq, seeing friends hurt and killed, yet despite those experiences returned home seeking other ways he could serve his community. Before he knew it, he was working as a police officer to continue serving others.
Today, more than a million men and women, including some of our community’s best, keep us safe by serving in our armed forces in dangerous, far off places like Afghanistan.
Millions more have served our country in the past with distinction and honor. These brave men and women have put their lives on the line, sometimes sacrificing everything, so that we may freely enjoy our lives.
Sometimes in the service the worst occurs–we lose those who have so selflessly served us. Among those we have lost are Mendocino County’s Army Sergeant Jason Buzzard, who was lost in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006, and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Pittman, who was lost in Afghanistan in 2011.
Tragically there are many, many more.
Memorial Day was created to remember and honor those who died to protect our way of life--our safety, our freedom, and our right to pursue happiness.
Memorial Day was first started on May 30, 1868. It was originally known as Decoration Day, a day set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves.
More than a hundred years later, Congress moved Memorial Day from May 30, to the last Monday in May to create a national holiday over a three-day weekend. Some argued that making the holiday part of a three-day weekend might cause the holiday's true meaning to be lost.
Luckily, here in Ukiah, that’s definitely not true.
This weekend, State Street will be lined with American flags to honor those who have served our country and paid the ultimate price. Along with the flags, our local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1900 will lead a parade to honor those who have served. The parade is scheduled for Memorial Day, Monday May 27th. The parade will start downtown at 10:30, travel on School Street to the Courthouse, then down State Street before turning on Low Gap Road and ending at the Russian River Cemetery.
I am extremely grateful to live in Ukiah.
Here in Ukiah, American flags line our streets, and we have parades to recognize and honor those who have given us so much.
For these American flags that line our streets, and Parades which travel through our town help us, the way the yellow footprints help those entering the service: to remind us of where we stand, and what direction we should face.
This Memorial Day, please take time to remember those who have served. For those cherished veterans we honor this Memorial Day have selflessly given each of us more than we could ever know.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.