Memorial Day: the importance of having a mission

PPMIGFor this Memorial Day, ask yourself: what in your life is worth living for?

Memorial Day is typically associated with death and for good reason. It is a holiday to commemorate those who gave the last full measure in service to their country. But in reflecting on this day, I appreciated that that sacrifice really informs how we choose to live.

I joined the Air Force in 1998. At one of my first mandatory briefings, the speaker explained that joining the military meant we had just signed “a blank check for our life over to Uncle Sam.” The simple, blunt phrase made joining the military very real to all of us.

However, I joined as a member of the JAG Corps, The Judge Advocate General Corps, the Air Force’s lawyers. I didn’t expect I’d ever have my check cashed by the government due to my service. Even after 9/11 and I was deployed in November 2001, I didn’t expect the check to be called due. As I tried to comfort my mother and wife at the time over their concerns for my safety, it remains a fact that far more JAGs have been killed in their offices in times of peace by disgruntled clients than in a theater of war.

But, soon after I joined, that sacrifice that service members make became very real to me.


Growing up, I had a friend named Brice Simpson. He was more of my brother’s friend as they went to the same school together, but I played soccer with and against Brice and knew him from around the neighborhood. Brice was a stud. A strapping kid, recognized as the superlative “Mr.” of his high school, who went on to attend the Air Force Academy. Brice excelled, being selected to be a fighter pilot, an elite group in the Air Force.

Soon after I had joined, Brice was stationed in Japan, flying F-16s. F-16s have a gallows-humor nickname of “Lawn Darts,” because they’re shaped like them, and they have only one engine–if that engine flames out, there is no back-up. There was a spate of crashes at Luke Air Force Base where pilots train on the F-16, but no single reason had been determined as to the cause. Tragically, on what was a routine take-off, Brice’s F-16 crashed. He was recovered and still alive, but barely.

He was flown to San Antonio for burn treatment, which is some of the most painful medical treatment of any. Raw nerves exposed and everything, even just the air, causing pain. Brice’s injuries were so severe that he had to have some amputations to stop infection from spreading. But, despite all of these measures, the treatment did not work and Brice died from his injuries, leaving behind his parents, his brother, his new wife, and many, many friends.

I share Brice’s story for several reasons.

Today is a day when many people meaning the best will post a message thanking those who served and calling for remembrance of the fallen. These are good messages to share. But, the full extent of that sacrifice should be appreciated. It shouldn’t be, “Remember those who served,” and then enjoy the cookout. Each of the gravestones in the rows at national cemeteries were someone’s child, brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother. Their loved ones lost their family member and friend in a vocation that very few ever enter, and fewer still ever have their cash checked. Very often it is in actions that some of the family disagree with, even the decision to join the military. Many do appreciate this, but Brice’s story hopefully makes the sacrifice more real.

I also share it because it informs what we can all take from today, whether we served in the military or not.

When veterans are asked what they miss about the military, very often the answer is, “I miss the mission.” That certainly is the case for me. Knowing you were serving a mission beyond just making more money for your company, or expanding your market, or cementing your brand in the public’s mind, made work in the military very fulfilling. This is not to say those are not important goals; they are. But knowing that potentially your job may call on you to sacrifice your life brings a focus to what you are working on. As a colleague of mine shared who is a veteran of the most recent Iraqi mission, when he gets nervous before a hearing, he remembers he doesn’t have to worry about driving across a improvised bomb on the way to the hearing.

This missing of mission is what prompted the question at the beginning and why I’ve chosen to share Brice’s story on this blog.

Yes, Memorial Day is to remember those who died. But, those who died weren’t thinking about that when they died. They were thinking about serving a mission that may call on them to give up their lives. I began by writing “what in your life is worth dying for?” but an author who I like, Don Miller, put it this way:

Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe.

And that made me appreciate that those we remember today weren’t intending to die for something, but they were intending on living for something. They lived for the mission they were serving and believed in it.

This is admittedly not the most direct connection with the focus of this blog, but it can be. If you appreciate that answering the question of “what is it that you are living for?” will then guide the decisions you make when pregnant and offered prenatal testing and after the results are returned if you chose to accept it.

Many who decline testing do so because they decided once pregnant they were not going to intervene for a medical condition with their baby–the common phrase being that “they wouldn’t do anything anyways” if they received a positive test result. Many who accept testing do so because they want to plan for their child and have things in order for the delivery. And many who accept testing do so because there are certain conditions they do not see in their vision for their life, and they will choose to terminate if those conditions are diagnosed.

But answering that fundamental question will drive what you choose to do throughout your life, and, specifically your pregnancy.

So, what in your life is worth living for?

The images in this post are from the Patriots Peace Memorial in Louisville, Kentucky (located on River Road for those who may visit). The memorial is dedicated to those who lost their lives in service to their country during times of undeclared hostilities and was spearheaded by Brice’s family after his death. More can be found out at this link, where you may also make a donation if you choose to support this mission. 

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