This past weekend our nation celebrated Flag Day. As I finished my morning run and walked the last 100 feet to the front steps of my house I paused to take this picture.
It is a snapshot I take often throughout the year — on national holidays that remember the fallen and honor our nation’s military and veterans; when I reflect about my time as a Marine or about someone I served with; or simply whenever I feel an overwhelming sense of pride to be an American.
As I stood before “Old Glory” this past Sunday, I realized that its meaning — and what it stands for to me and millions of other Americans — is more important than ever. It represents “why” I chose to serve our nation and why I am so proud to continue serving alongside our diverse community of volunteers as the CEO of Operation Gratitude.
It also occurred to me that Flag Day this year felt different for a lot of reasons. There were two things that struck me most. First, the mini flags that lined the streets and were placed on thousands of lawns around my neighborhood in previous years weren’t there anymore.
COVID-19 prevented it from happening, like it has so many other beautiful things that bring our communities together including service projects. Second, I thought about the terrible anxiety our deployed Service Members must be feeling right now as a result of extended deployments and being far away from our country and their families during a time of uncertainty and widespread unrest.
So as we celebrate National Flag Week, Operation Gratitude is announcing our decision to honor deployed troops around the globe and lift their spirits, by filling the outstanding requests we have for more than 5,000 individually addressed Care Packages.
Despite the numerous challenges posed by coronavirus, our team is finding creative ways to safely and efficiently assemble our signature Care Packages, so together, we can say “Thank You” to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines serving far from home. We decided that we simply cannot wait any longer, knowing that thousands of service members won’t see their families for several more weeks.
My family and I ended Flag Day walking the perimeter of our nation’s capital along the Potomac River and ending at the Marine Corps War Memorial. This symbol has become a familiar sight and a place of solace as I look for ways to cope with and reflect about the challenging times we face as Americans and the role Operation Gratitude can play in bridging divides and strengthening communities.
The words etched on the side of this monument were spoken by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy and Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during WWII when he said:
“On Iwo Jima, in the ranks of ALL the Marines who set foot on that Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
In the Marine Corps, honor, courage, and commitment are core values that define how every Marine thinks, acts, and fights. Those values were forged by men and women from all walks of life on the sands of Iwo Jima and on numerous other battlefields. Their actions have shaped the history not only of the Marine Corps but of our Armed Forces and of our nation as a whole. The raising of our flag on Mount Suribachi should be a reminder to all Americans that we must do better for those who came before us and for our children.
Over the next five weeks, Operation Gratitude will work tirelessly to honor the courage and commitment of those who have served and those who continue to serve and protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans — and everything our flag represents.