What Memorial Day really means

By Congressman Bradley Byrne

Ryan Owens was like many other high school students at Illinois Valley Central High School. He was a huge sports fan and excellent athlete who played on different teams throughout his childhood.

Unlike other high school students, Ryan did not spend his time preparing for college or the workforce. Instead, he dreamed of something bigger than that. He dreamed of becoming a Navy SEAL. As one of Ryan’s high school friends put it, “He always talked about the greatest thing he could do was serve his country.”

It was that willingness to serve that led him to join the Navy just weeks after graduating from high school. After much training and hard work, Ryan became a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite and highly secretive fighting force. It was SEAL Team 6 that succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden.

Ryan had a storied military career, receiving numerous awards throughout his 12 deployments. On the personal side, Ryan married and became the father to three kids.

This past January, Ryan joined other U.S. service members in conducting a raid in the Middle East country of Yemen to target terrorist groups. During the raid, Ryan was tragically killed while working to capture important intelligence information.

During his Joint Address to Congress earlier this year, President Donald Trump recognized Ryan Owens and his service to our country. President Trump said, “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero – battling against terrorism and securing our nation.” Having been in the room, I can tell you it was one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen.

On Monday, we celebrated Memorial Day and all the Americans who lost their lives serving our country. Memorial Day started after the Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day. It was formally codified into law in 1971 and is now observed on the last Monday in the month of May.

As we think about Memorial Day, people like Ryan come to my mind. People who choose to put country above self. People who turn and run into the firefight.

People who constantly go above and beyond the call of duty.

I am reminded of people from right here in Southwest Alabama who have given their all. For example, Marine Corporal Christopher Winchester from Flomaton who died from a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq or Bruce “Bubba” Ferrell, a graduate of Baldwin County High School, who stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

Over the course of our history – from Lexington and Concord to Gettysburg to the shores of Normandy to the streets of Afghanistan – men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States of America and the freedoms we all hold dear.

A little known Memorial Day tradition relates to the American flag. The flag is flown at half-staff until noon when it is raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. This is to signify that we will not let the sacrifice of those who passed away serving our country go in vain and that we will continue fighting for and defending the United States of America.

So, the next time you look up and see an American flag, I hope you will think of people like Ryan Owen. I hope you will take a few extra seconds to reflect on what the Red, White, and Blue actually stands for and the sacrifices that make our lives possible.