Memorial honors fallen vets (copy)

Neal and Lucy Dillon admire a memorial that bears the name of their son, Matt, and two other local veterans who died in battle. The memorial is outside the National Guard in Graniteville.

Our son, Matt, told us if he didn’t come home from Iraq that we should tell people that he did his duty.

He didn’t come home.

Those words have echoed in our minds through the past 12 years of our lives as our family tries to move forward.

So, what does Memorial Day mean to us now?

It means we should stop and think about the sacrifices men and women have given to make this world a safer place for everyone, not just on Memorial Day, but every day.

These soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines are stronger and braver than we could ever imagine ourselves being.

They are heroes.

They are people like us who heard the call to serve and couldn’t be persuaded to do anything else. They were the sons and daughters we raised who, when younger, were heroes-in-the-making and we had no idea.

Prior to our son entering the military, Memorial Day was simply a morning service we attended. We were unaware of the importance of these ceremonies and clueless at the time about the man Matt was going to become.

We saw him as a typical teen doing those things teens usually do. After he joined the military, he became the far away service member to whom we sent care packages. After Marine Corps Boot Camp at Parris Island, he was a far cry from the boy who wore baggy jeans in high school.

The military made our son the man he was meant to be. He wanted to help people and did that by joining the Marines, the only thing he felt he needed to do. Our son has shown us what dedication, honor and respect are. He has shown us what it means to be hero.

To us, Memorial Day is now the day we remember what it means to be a hero. This idea of a hero is deeply rooted in the soldiers we say “goodbye” to with our tear-stained faces and those we welcome home with happier tears.

Memorial Day is the day we thank those who did not get the joyous homecoming or who have since been laid to rest. It is the day we remember the heroes who gave everything for their fellow service members serving next to them and the people they left at home.

Memorial Day is a day we are reminded of what combat veterans have given to this country, whether it’s years of service or their very lives. Every single veteran, especially those who served in combat, has given something to this country, without asking for anything in return.

Memorial Day is a day to remember these men and women for who they are: heroes who did their duty.

Neal and Lucy Dillon are a Gold Star Family, their son, Matt, was killed in action in 2006 in Iraq on his 37th combat patrol.