Every Memorial Day, we can and should remember all the brave Americans in uniform who have laid down their lives so that we can live in freedom. It's not just a three-day weekend. It's a time for remembrance. It's a time for thanksgiving, that our country still has young men who are willing to risk all in this world for the sake of their "friends."
This year, I'd like to focus on one man: Maj. Douglas Zembiec, known to Marines as "the Lion of Fallujah." And I want to thank Dan Morse of The Washington Post for his memorable tribute to Maj. Zembiec.
They have to follow your orders, Morse writes of seasoned combat veterans, they don't have to come to your funeral. But come they did. When Maj. Ziembiec's memorial service took place on May 15, 2007, at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, 40 of his men showed up. These enlisted men reported that their major always told them it was his privilege to lead them. That's what he learned when he was a Midshipman at the Academy. That's the lesson he was prepared to teach them when he graduated in 1995.
Not only had Maj. Ziembiec served in Kosovo, he had pulled four tours in Iraq. Four. At the funeral, Cpl. Chad Borgmann related to Dan Morse the story of Maj. Ziembiec's racing down from a rooftop in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. He was trying to get a U.S. Abrams tank to direct its fire at some insurgents who had pinned down his Marines.
Cpl. Borgmann knew that normally the unit's commanding officer was not the one who would race through hostile fire, mount the tank, and tell its driver where to shoot. But the Lion of Fallujah always led from the front. He would never ask his men to do what he was unwilling to do.
That's why a gate guard, another young Marine, said this to Maj. Ziembiec's father when the older man drove on base at Camp Pendleton, in California: "I was with your son in Fallujah. He was my company commander. If we had to go back there, I would follow him with a spoon."
With a spoon.
"Never forget those who were killed," wrote Maj. Ziembiec of the fallen members of his unit. "And never let rest those who killed them."
Typically, it was Maj. Ziembiec who called his men the lions of Fallujah. And when he was cut down, they gave that title to him. An honor guard of Navy and Marine officers and enlisted bore him to his grave. In receiving him, Arlington National Cemetery had one more American hero sleeping in its hallowed grounds.
The story of the Lion of Fallujah is one of thousands--and hundreds of thousands--that make this land the home of the free because of the brave. We need faith. And we need courage.
Let us thank God that we can commemorate once again this year the sacrifices of all those men and women in our armed forces who laid down their lives for their friends. Memorial Day is a day for prayer and reflection and for the most solemn recollection. In remembering their deeds and paying homage to their memory, we preserve this last best hope of men on earth.