How should we honor the fallen?

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It is an important holiday, and I want to make sure we honor the fallen properly. This holiday has become confusing for many Americans. Nowadays, some treat Memorial in the same manner as Veteran’s Day. They are two distinct holidays with different purposes. Memorial Day is the day we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our great country. Veteran’s Day, on the other hand, is the day we honor those who have served in our military. Given that Memorial Day is when we are supposed to honor the fallen, the natural questions is how should we do that. Three ideas comes to mind.

1. Remember their heroic deeds. All Americans should pause this weekend and think about those who died for our freedom. There are several ways to do this – read a book about military history, visit a military monument, or watch a military history movie. Over the years I have done all three of these activities many times. My favorite book about military history is Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. The movie about this unbelievable US Army Ranger raid is also great. My favorite military monument is at the top of Pointe Du Hoc where the US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. My favorite military history movie is a tie between The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far. Both are great, and based on books written by Cornelius Ryan.

2. Visit the battlefields where they fought. The best way to get a sense of what our fallen experienced is to visit where they fought. Walk the battlefield, learn their stories, and ponder what happened. This summer, you will get the opportunity to see some of the most historic battlefields and cemeteries in the world when we go to Normandy. We will see firsthand what our troops faced on D-Day, visit several museums, and pay our respects at the cemetery. I believe it will be an eye opening experience for both of you. I am looking forward to showing you this important piece of our history.

3. Honor their sacrifice. This one can be challenging, so I would be plain. In my opinion the best way to honor the sacrifice of the fallen is to live a life worth living. Make the most of what you have been given. As an American you have more opportunity than most people in this world. Our freedom was paid for by others. Don’t squander their sacrifice. Get out there and make something of yourself.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan (another great war movie), there is a powerful scene at the end. Tom Hanks character Captain John Miller is severely wounded. He tells Private Ryan played by Matt Damon to “earn this”, and then he dies. The message is the same as what I am saying here. In the next scene, Private Ryan is in cemetery at Normandy, and remembers those words, and thinks about his life. Watch the clip below. It actually makes me cry every time I watch it.

Start off by making your bed

Today marks the first year anniversary of writing this blog. It has been a great experience, and hopefully both of you have learned something from the blog posts. Several people have provided positive feedback about the blog, and indicated they enjoy reading the weekly posts. I plan to keep on blogging, to keep looking for wisdom to pass on, and to discover new topics worthy of discussion. I learn a lot from others, so I will pass along their wisdom to you, rather than just fill the page with my own thoughts. With that in mind, I am going to start the new year off sharing some simple advice from one of America’s great warriors. Admiral William McRaven.

This time of year is graduation season. Celebrities, politicians, scholars, and many others take the graduation stage to dispense advice to high school and college students as they end one chapter of their life, and start a new one. Many graduation speeches are dull – full of cliches and dumb jokes. Occasionally, you will hear one that is excellent. In 2014, Admiral McRaven gave the commencement speech at the University of Texas. It was called 10 Lessons from my Years as a Navy Seal. It is a brilliant speech full of wisdom and insight. Below is a short excerpt from his speech. It is a simple idea, but a powerful one.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

It may sound trivial, but the act of making your bed every morning helps get the day off on the right foot. I recommend you take up this habit. In case you want to hear the rest of Admiral McRaven’s speech, here is the link to the Youtube video. It is well worth watching.

Thank your mom – today is her special day

Today is a special day for women. Today is Mother’s Day. Make sure you take time to thank your mom for all she has done for you over the years. I know I will. For a long time I was not very close to my mom. Some things happened in my youth that strained our relationship, and I did not see a compelling reason to do anything about it. Neglecting my relationship with my mom was a big mistake – one that I regret to this day. The reason that I regret it is that my mom is awesome. When I think about why my mom is great, three words come to mind.

1. German – my mom was born and raised in Dresden Germany. She met my Dad in Berlin and came to America with him in the early 1960s. Even though mom spent the rest of her life here, she is still very German. You hear it in her voice, and will notice it in her mannerisms. Mom speaks her mind when talking with others. This trait is unsettling for some. She expects excellence. Why do something if you don’t plan to be the best. And she is not physically affectionate. Germans are just not big at hugging. What I have learned by watching my German mom is to be myself, and not worry about what others think about me. I encourage you to do the same. Be who you are, not who others think you should be. I know a lot of people who drive themselves crazy trying to please others all the time.

2. Tough – my mom has dealt with a lot in her life. Dresden was bombed to the ground during the war, and conquered by the Russians. Her family was wealthy before the war, but not so much after Dresden become part of the communist DDR. Mom went to Berlin to find work, and met Dad there. The Berlin wall went up while they were there. As a result she would not see her family, or her home, for many, many years. She raised two young boys while Dad served in the Army, deploying to Vietnam for three combat tours. We moved many times before finally settling in the DC area. She dealt with all of these challenges, and many more. I have never heard my mom say, I cannot handle this. Her toughness set a great example for me to follow as I deal with the challenges of life.

3. Generous – my mom has given me more than I can ever repay. Both your Uncle Perry and I played multiple sports growing up. Mom drove all over God’s green earth making sure we made it to swim practice, swim meets, and soccer games every weekend. Dad did a lot of coaching, Mom did a ton of driving. Also, she has never hesitated to help you boys. I have not told this story before, but I will now. When your mom and I divorced it cause a lot of financial challenges to me. I was paying a large mortgage, rent for a townhouse, and for a divorce lawyer all at the same time. I was spending more than I earned, and on the road to financial ruin. I mentioned this challenge to my mom, and bemoaned the fact that I had to stop saving money to pay for your college. Without saying anything, she quietly went upstairs, wrote a check, and then handed it to me. It was enough money to pay for your first year of college. I told mom that I had no idea when I could pay her back. She did not want the money back. She wanted her grandsons to succeed in this world, and that meant going to college. Her generosity inspires me to do the same. I am in a much better place financially these days, and will do my best to help both of you, and your families.

Take a moment to reflect today about your mom, and what she means to you. Make sure you express your thanks. I bet she will appreciate it.

I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.
– Antonio Villaraigosa

Honor your parents – they will need you

As you know, this week has been a rough one for my parents, your Oma and Opa. They were in a bad car accident that totaled their car, and left both of them injured. Your Uncle Perry and Cousin Cooper went to the hospital, and drove them home. I met all of them at home to try and get mom and dad settled in. We have been doing our best to make sure they are cared for while they heal. It is a long road ahead, but I am really glad we are able to help my parents.

The Bible teaches us that we are supposed to honor our parents. Some days I am not exactly sure what that means. This past week, the answer was clear to me. Honoring my parents meant helping them out in their time of need. At other times, I try to honor my parents by spending time with them. We do not do much other than talk about life. They really enjoy hearing about how each of you is doing, and how things are going. Nowadays, I live near them (only a few miles away), so it is not too difficult to visit them once a week.

For many years I did not do a great job staying connected with my parents. I was always too busy to spend time with them. As a result, I grew distant from my parents. I am really glad that I saw the error of my ways, and decided to make a change. It would have been an awful shame, and I would have missed out on a lot of great conversations. As you get older, I hope that we get the opportunity to spend time together. It will be time well spent.

Exodus 20:12 – “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.