Letter to the Editor:
Each year on Memorial Day, we pause to remember the men and women who have given their lives for our country. Though we can’t begin to do justice to their sacrifice, we should, as we reflect, consider the ways in which we can do right by them at home in our community.
A while back, I asked a friend of mine who served three tours in Afghanistan what it was like to fight that war. He told me that short bursts of terror were interspersed within long periods of boredom. Soldiers fill time with grunt work or exercise; sometimes they interact with the locals. My friend once traded some MREs for a chicken. I often think about that: even in the least hospitable places on the planet, service members don’t cease to be, first and foremost, human beings.
Those who serve in our armed forces stand ready to defend our highest ideals. Yet at a time when only about 1% of Americans have done active duty in the military—even after nearly 17 years of war—it’s important that we also recognize that service members are not primarily symbols or examples, but real people who have made real sacrifices on our behalf. Otherwise, we risk forgetting the true meaning of their sacrifice.
One way we can do right by the fallen is to provide for veterans upon their return. In an interview late last year, Louis Celli of the American Legion said that lack of access to mental health care among veterans is “a failure on the community’s part.” This is a horrifying assessment coming from someone who knows. It should give us pause, because while many service members have given their lives overseas, many others have done so only after returning home. Our Commonwealth must ensure that the physical and mental health care needs of our veterans are met in each and every circumstance.
Even beyond providing adequate health care, however, every one of us has a direct responsibility to those who we remember on Memorial Day, which is to ensure that the communities they’ve helped to build and care for can thrive. For those of us who have not fought overseas, this is our primary task. To that end, the long-term relationships and tight-knit community culture we’re fortunate to still have here in South Boston isn’t just a casual convenience; these real human connections absorb the sense of isolation that exacerbates many of life’s difficulties, including the difficulty of returning home after active duty. It’s the best, most genuine way we can express our gratitude to the service members who have returned, and to those who have not.
From the Fitzgerald Post to the Ollie, our community institutions here in Southie are without equal. And of all the great work they do, the best is simply to provide people with a space to get acquainted. When people know each other, people can look out for one another. And when people are looking out for one another, we’re living up to the highest American ideals that our service members have fought and died to defend. Let’s keep that in mind this weekend as we recall those who gave their lives so that our freedom can endure.
*Matt Rusteika is a husband, father, Democrat, and South Boston native running for State Representative in the 4th Suffolk District, which consists predominantly of the neighborhood of South Boston. Until recently, he worked in the Baker administration on energy and climate policy. He has a Master’s in Public Policy from Brown University.