Dear Community Member,
Roughly 17 years ago this week, a military fatality occurred that left a permanent mark on me.
At the time, my wife and I were living in Israel with our four young children. We had become attuned to daily life in Israel.
One day, two Israeli soldiers were killed on the Lebanese border. The newspapers had front-page in-depth stories about both of them. There was a quote from one of the fathers that has never left me. He said, “I feel like my right arm has been severed.”
His pain touched me deeply. The entire country seemed to share the families’ grief. In the US, we are usually isolated from the pain that a soldier’s family endures. This is because when our military suffers a casualty outside of our own state, the news is barely reported.
In tiny Israel, the draft is mandatory. Everyone knows of a soldier who has been killed or wounded. Israelis take their Memorial Day—Yom Hazikaron—very seriously. A siren goes off on Yom Hazikaron and people stop, wherever they are (even on the freeway), and stand at attention. You can see this somber tribute by clicking here.
In our giant country of 320 million people, with a volunteer army, most give little thought to Memorial Day. The day seems to have morphed into a holiday weekend that celebrates summer and graduations.
We can learn from the way Israel mourns and commemorates her fallen.
With this in mind, and Memorial Day approaching, I looked up several US soldiers who recently died. I’d like to tell you about one of them.
Army Corporal John Dawson, 22, was a medic killed in action in Afghanistan on Wednesday, April 8. He was from Northbridge, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. He left behind his parents, sister, and many relatives. He was an honors student, active in his church, an avid bicyclist, and a soccer player. While in the Army, he started a blood drive that helped save more than 200 hospital patients.
At his funeral, his father said, “If you knew John, you knew a respectable, kind, caring, thoughtful, smart, witty, and fun kid….You will always be our hero, John. Thank you for the 22 years you provided us.”
Why do I tell you all of this? For two reasons: gratitude and memory.
First is showing gratitude. We Americans have freedom, in part because we have a military. I am thankful that in the United States we can practice our Judaism, have Jewish organizations like the Federation, and enjoy freedoms that are unparalleled in human history. I feel grateful to our soldiers and their families.
Second is honoring their memory. Too few of us remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers and their families on our behalf. Especially on Memorial Day, I think we should honor the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives. Plus, this month marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe in WWII.
Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have died allowing us to live as we do. This number is beyond our grasp. We can however think of Corporal John Dawson. This Memorial Day, I’d like to suggest please that you have him and his family in your thoughts.
May we honor his memory and the memory of all who have died serving our country.
Zechronam Leevracha—May their memories be a blessing.
P.S. Our Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has a close relationship with the Minnesota National Guard and works to support our troops abroad. If you would like to help, or would care to share any other thoughts, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honor Guard at Corporal Dawson’s Funeral. Corporal Dawson’s military awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with V Device, the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and the Combat Action Badge.