Reflect on the fallen on Memorial Day weekend

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NOTE: This is obviously not related to sports or the Kansas City Chiefs, but it is a subject close to my heart.

The below originally appeared in 2009 at the now-defunct website KCMetroSports.com, and was written to honor Army Sgt. Major Cornell Gilmore, a fallen comrade, mentor and friend.

While it is common for the well-intentioned to offer a thank you over the holiday weekend to those who have served or continue to serve, there is another day set aside every November for that occasion: Veterans Day.

Memorial Day is a meaningful holiday, which shouldn’t be overshadowed by commercialized sales or cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” greetings.

Instead …

THIS DAY SHOULD NEVER LOSE ITS MEANING

The traffic will be heavy over the three-day holiday weekend as millions travel to celebrate what traditionally kicks off summer. Tourists are set to flock to beaches or ballparks, while friends and families gather in backyards for barbecue ribs, chicken, hotdogs and hamburgers.

Meanwhile, lost in the celebrations is what the weekend is for.

Nov. 14, 2003; Arlington, VA; Soldiers rendering honors as the 3rd ID Honor Guard carries Sgt. Maj. Cornell W. Gilmore to his final resting place at Arlington Cemetery. An estimated 500 people attended the burial service. Credit: ArlingtonCemetery.net via Jahi Chikwendiu, The Washington Post

Nov. 14, 2003; Arlington, VA; Soldiers rendering honors as the 3rd ID Honor Guard carries Sgt. Maj. Cornell W. Gilmore to his final resting place at Arlington Cemetery. An estimated 500 people attended the burial service. Credit: ArlingtonCemetery.net via Jahi Chikwendiu, The Washington Post

Memorial Day commemorates the brave men and women of our military who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation.

And for many who wore or continue to wear the uniform, the holiday is special.

Despite my second career taking me far from the military way of life, I still look back on my uniformed days with fondness, which I touched on in a 2009 Veterans Day online column at The Kansas City Star.

The Memorial Day weekend, however, is more about the exceptional men and women who gave their lives, including a great man: Army Sgt. Maj. Cornell Gilmore.

Gilmore and I served together during the 1990s with the 25th Infantry Division (Light) at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He later advanced rapidly through the ranks, culminating in attaining the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps’ (JAG) highest enlisted position at the Pentagon.

Gilmore was charismatic and a fantastic leader. If you met him, you came away genuinely liking the man and I was honored to consider him a friend through the years leading to a fateful day in Iraq.

Sadly, the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying my friend crashed after taking enemy fire over Tikrit on Friday, Nov. 7, 2003.

Also lost were Chief Warrant Officer 5 Sharon Swartworth, JAG’s senior ranking legal administrator, and the helicopter crew.

I will never forget receiving official notification two days later in the form of a phone call from one of my former bosses, a lieutenant colonel who knew of my friendship with Gilmore.

A numb feeling overcame me as I listened in silence to the voice on the other end during that early Sunday morning phone call.

Upon hanging up, my mind wandered to just the month before when Gilmore and I sat in my office reminiscing of past duty stations during his visit to Fort Riley, Kan.

Gilmore’s loss was felt everywhere and The Baltimore Sun published a touching tribute days after the incident.

Additionally, our nation paid respect to Gilmore upon his return home with a full military honors burial service at Arlington Cemetery.

And there I stood, among hundreds of soldiers who traveled on short notice, to say farewell to a hero on Nov. 14, 2003.

Men and women who raise their right hands and take the oath to defend our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic, understand the risks.

I pounded those risks into my soldiers’ heads throughout my 20-year career, especially to trainees during a two-year tour as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Still, we are talking about special people from all walks of life and they certainly don’t serve for the money once achieving mid-career status and beyond.

Instead, the selfless service is accomplished out of a deep love for our country.

Regardless of political views or final destination in the coming days, take a moment on Monday to remember why you’re potentially enjoying a baseball game or a barbecue instead of working.

You don’t need to visit a national cemetery, but pay respect to the rows of U.S. flags adorning the lawn should you pass one en route to a ballpark. A moment of silence as you drive by is more than enough.

Never, ever forget the true meaning of the weekend.

Memorial Day commemorates the brave men and women of our military who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation.

To lose sight of that is a shame.

Snapped this of Cornell Gilmore at the Honolulu International Airport on Dec. 4, 1996. Gilmore met me at the airport to see me off after a permanent change of station (PCS) from the 25th ID returned me to the mainland. Cornell Gilmore: Dec. 8, 1957 to Nov. 7, 2003. Rest well, my friend.

Snapped this of Cornell Gilmore at the Honolulu International Airport on Dec. 4, 1996. Gilmore met me at the airport to see me off after a permanent change of station (PCS) from the 25th ID returned me to the mainland. Cornell Gilmore: Dec. 8, 1957 to Nov. 7, 2003. Rest well, my friend