BRIAN THIEM writes: To many people, Memorial Day means a 3-day weekend, the beginning of summer, picnics with family, and plenty of beer, hotdogs, and ice cream. Last year, I was the featured speaker at a community Memorial Day event, where I shared my experiences from more than three decades of wearing an Army uniform.
I teared up when I spoke about a fellow military police lieutenant colonel who died in combat not far from where I was located in Iraq in 2003. I had to dry my eyes again when I spoke of the thousands of fellow service members who served our nation knowing they, too, might give their lives.
Dying for one’s country is not part of a soldier’s job description any more than getting shot or killed in the line of duty is part of a police officer’s job. My blood boils when I hear talking heads on TV or social media activists proclaim police officers should never shoot first—they should only fire their guns when the “citizen” indicates his intent to kill the officer by shooting first—that getting shot, stabbed, or beaten is part of the job.
Nevertheless, even though being injured or killed is not part of the job, soldiers and police officers understanding their jobs include the risk of injury or death. In the 25 years I served with the Oakland Police Department, 11 officers were killed in the line of duty. For a department of 700 sworn, that’s a lot.
I knew all of them. They all came to work every day understanding the risk. None planned to give their lives. None planned to leave spouses and children behind. But all knew it was a possibility. Yet they still performed their duties.
On Memorial Day, the Oakland Police Department honors those officers who gave their lives by sending motorcycle squads to the cemeteries where the dead officers lay. They meet with the families of the fallen officers and lay a wreath at their graves. We honor our dead but pray we don’t have to join them.
To me, that’s what Memorial Day is about. It’s a time of sadness, as I remember those soldiers and police officers who gave their lives for their country and communities. But it’s also a time of celebration where we honor those men and women who selflessly stepped up and took an oath, knowing the risk.