Honor the ultimate sacrifice of those who defended our country by ‘earning it’

By Pete Najera, United Way President & CEO

The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, May 27, 2021. 

In the World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan,” there is a line toward the end when the character played by Tom Hanks lays dying on a bridge and whispers “Earn it,” to the soldier whose life he and others have just saved.

The surviving soldier (Private Ryan), realizing the ultimate sacrifice paid by these strangers but fellow Americans, becomes determined to live the best life possible. He strives to be a good person, a good spouse and a good parent, knowing it’s his responsibility to honor the gift given to him and paid for by the lives of others.

As Memorial Day approaches, I hope we all take a moment to reflect on the gift given to all of us by over a million of our fellow Americans throughout the history of our country who have died in battle in order to let us live our best lives possible.

Originally established to honor those who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 as “Decoration Day,” where citizens were encouraged to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. By 1971, it was declared a federal holiday and now is more commonly recognized by decorating graves with American flags. Today, communities come together across the country and host commemorative parades. They also visit cemeteries to remember their war dead and decorate main street with red, white and blue.

Wichita is no different as a community that honors its veterans. Among the many things one can now do is visit the inaugural “Flags of Freedom” organized by the United Way of the Plains. It is a grand, two-week display of hundreds of American flags, dedicated by members of our community and sponsoring organizations in honor of loved ones who served. The flags are now on display at I-235 and South Meridian (IAM District Lodge #70) until Monday, May 31.

Just like Private Ryan, I believe we all have a deep responsibility to live our lives in such a way to honor what veterans have done for us. I encourage all members of our community not to wait until the end of our lives and wonder if we did enough. By then, it’s too late. Instead, strive to live a dutiful life now and always. In fact, to ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by coordinating and celebrating commemorations of Memorial Day.

As I drive by I-235 and South Meridian and see the hundreds of flags waving next to the IAM District Lodge #70, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and gratitude knowing that one of those flags is for my father, who served in Korea and Vietnam. I am also determined to rededicate myself to ensure I am honoring his service and living up to my responsibility to “earn it.”

Watch how the field of flags came together
View Event Photos

A private event was held Sunday, May 30, with event sponsors. View photos here.

Donate Today

You can still support veterans and other community causes like this one by giving online or sending a donation to United Way of the Plains, 245 N. Water St., Wichita, KS 67202 with “Flags of Freedom” in the memo line.


Published On: May 27, 2021Tags: , ,


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