Memorial Day honors Servicemembers who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Their memory is honored by all citizens who value the sacrifice paid in the defense of freedom - especially by family, friends and fellow Servicemembers.
Since the Civil War, the most costly war in terms of American lives lost at about 600,000, an estimated 1,244,145 U.S. Servicemembers have died in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At White Sands Missile Range, where the civilian workforce heavily outweighs those in uniform, many are military veterans who served during past wars. Memorial Day brings back memories for those such as Candice Gilbert, an Army Community Service employee who served in Iraq as an Army communication signal support specialist.
"For me, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, where we honor the fallen by showing love and support to those who have lost a military member," said Gilbert. "I like to think our fallen military would appreciate knowing their families are being cared for, and their name and sacrifice is not forgotten," said Gilbert, who visits veteran's cemeteries to honor Memorial Day.
But she also honors veterans on a daily basis. Each morning, Gilbert turns on the light for the mosaic of the fallen Soldier displayed in the Wall of Remembrance in the ACS building located beside the post theater at the intersection of Rock Island Avenue and Dyer Street.
She does so in case a visitor shows up at the Wall of Remembrance where photos are displayed on the walls honoring fallen veterans from New Mexico, those who died downrange while stationed at White Sands, and New Mexico natives from the Bataan Death March.
The room also includes a tribute to POW/MIAs, represented by an empty chair and a table set for one. A nearby display board contains cards, letters and photos from family members of the fallen Soldiers. Families are always welcomed to contribute to the room, said Gilbert.
For Sal Mineo, the death of a fellow Servicemember in Vietnam often became personal even though they had never met. Mineo, a Management and Program Analyst at White Sands, served as a casualty assistance specialist at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. His job was to meet with the families of Servicemembers killed in Vietnam, acting as a liaison for POW/MIA families, and serving as a military service representative attending dedication ceremonies honoring fallen veterans.
Mineo was on the road four days a week throughout New York, New Jersey and Delaware meetings with families from all walks of life, helping them through their grief of losing a loved one.
"The job took a lot of keeping your feelings and emotions in check," Mineo said. "I can look back on it and see that it was a job that had to be done, and feel that, although not being in combat, was an important role in the Vietnam Conflict that I accomplished. Thankfully it seems that some of the lessons learned in that conflict have led to better care for our current warfighters."
One of those current warfighters is Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Trevino, a Senior Test Officer with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Air and Missile Defense Test Detachment at White Sands.
"My first day in the Army was 10 September 2001, so I guess you can say that I'm one of the last non-heroes to join the military," said Trevino. "I, like many others, came from a lower middle-class family raised by a single mother and utilized the military to improve my situation in life. I thought that I would do my time, get a skill and some college money and enter the private sector never to return."
But Trevino stayed the course and deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 with Charlie Battery, 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, where he first encountered the loss of a fellow Soldier in combat. And he kept returning, deploying four more times over the next 12 years to Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. He would know the loss of other fellow Soldiers and hold sacred their memory and sacrifice.
"Memorial Day is not just a chance for civilians to thank us and remember our fallen. It's an opportunity for every leader in the military, and the government at every echelon to feel the weight of the responsibility they are charged with to ensure the health, morale, and welfare of all Servicemembers under their charge."