Memorial Day is our nation's commemoration of the sacrifices made by those whose lives were put on the line for the freedoms we hold sacred.
Whether our veterans survived their military service or were lost on the field of battle, our country owes each of them, and their families, a debt of gratitude.
I am not a veteran. In the summer of 1969 — the year of the nation's first draft lottery — my birthday, June 26th, drew number 327. For those not aware of the significance of that, my birthday could have come up number 1 or number 365. I was fortunate to be so far down the list, and therefore assured to be free from the call-up to the Vietnam War.
One of my closest friends drew number 6, and another drew in the low 20s. Both were ineligible for student deferment and were drafted. One was sent to duty at a NATO base in Europe because he had strong language skills. The other was deployed to Vietnam, where he was seriously wounded in 1970 and sent home. He never fully recovered from his neck, shoulder and arm wounds.
As we look back at the wars proposed by presidents, declared by Congress, and supported to varying degrees by our citizens, let's remember that none of these conflicts were, or to this day are, immune from political and social controversy. But we should never confuse debate over military policy with the need to be respectful of those whose lives are at risk on the battlefield, in the air, or on the seas.
Our nation has been the destination of choice for great waves of immigrants from the world's most frightening and repressive nations. My father and maternal grandparents were three of those immigrants, and perhaps your family has its own story of freedom-seeking relatives.
Even for our African-American neighbors, whose ancestors came shackled in the holds of slave ships, and Native Americans, whose ancestors were slaughtered or subjected to racist cruelties, the children of most American families enjoy the opportunity to be free from the threats of oppression and terror. That freedom was earned, bled for, and in many cases, died for.
In honor of those who we've lost, let's not be passive about the importance of their sacrifice. In their honor, let's pledge to participate in the following advocacy activities:
• Register, vote and urge others to do the same. Democracy demands dedication!
• Actively communicate with our elected officials about issues affecting families, including military families. Remember, our elected officials work for us!
• Share your thoughts in the media by writing letters to the editor and interviewing with reporters. The media is our most cost-effective megaphone.
• Motivate youth to exercise their voice in matters which affect them. The next generation of advocates needs good role models.
• Confront those who think that complaining about problems is sufficient. Whining is not as good as winning!
• Compliment community leadership and promote active involvement by friends, colleagues and neighbors as volunteers, whom I call "time philanthropists."
• Support causes which focus on advocating positive change. Spectatorism doesn't produce progress.
Memorial Day presents the chance to gather our thoughts and honor the military service of our parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Those who wore the uniform of our armed forces and gave all or a portion of their lives in service to our nation and its allies deserve our gratitude and sincere respect.
Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee. He can be reached at Jack@4Gen.org.