Opinion

On Memorial Day, remember those left behind by the fallen

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Photo - Major Gen. Myles L. Deering, left, adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, looks on as Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, right, and Jane Horton, center, the widow of Spc. Christopher Horton, look over the Oklahoma Gold Star Medal awarded to Horton on appreciation day for the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Division, in the Oklahoma Legislature. The Gold Star Medal is an award created by the Legislature to honor Oklahoma military members killed in combat. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool)
Major Gen. Myles L. Deering, left, adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, looks on as Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, right, and Jane Horton, center, the widow of Spc. Christopher Horton, look over the Oklahoma Gold Star Medal awarded to Horton on appreciation day for the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Division, in the Oklahoma Legislature. The Gold Star Medal is an award created by the Legislature to honor Oklahoma military members killed in combat. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool)
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After more than 12 years at war our nation is almost at peace and can hopefully rest our weary, war-torn military, country and people.

There's a lot of healing that needs to be done, many scars that will remain, and many lives that need to be rebuilt. Many of the 2.6 million veterans who have bravely served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have endured multiple deployments, losing families, careers, peace of mind and limbs. There are many heroes who are going to have to learn to live with a new sense of normalcy.

Our country needs to be aware of the changes these military men and women have gone through to adapt and change ourselves. Whether we like it or not, we have changed as a nation; the attacks on Sept. 11, Afghanistan and Iraq have changed us forever. We will never be the same. Just as a deployment changes a family, more than a decade of war shapes a nation. As a nation we owe our veterans honor, we owe them our resources, and we owe them the best care we can give.

There is a group of Americans who have suffered greatly from these wars, whose lives will never be the same and who sit mostly in silence as the nation slowly forgets and leaves them behind. Their wounds are not visible on the surface, their lives seem normal unless they open up, drop their walls and tell you otherwise.

What America does not realize is they are really walking around with gaping wounds. Some lost their other half, have had their marriages ripped apart. There are children who no longer have a mother or father to raise them. There are mothers who have carried their sons and daughters within their womb, nursed their wounds when they fell on the pavement learning to ride their bikes, and fathers who walked their daughters down the aisle and then sent them off to war, only to have them come home in a body bag.

As hard as it is to read and think about, it is even harder to write. Every time I do I picture the hundreds and thousands of families I have had the honor of meeting throughout the two years since my husband, Chris, gave his life in battle in Afghanistan.

The stories of these unsung heroes and the families they left behind to carry on their legacy and bare their loss are the true backbone of the nation. Their very blood is the red weaved into our flag, we are the ones who tear up every time we hear the National Anthem or watch the flag wave. We tear up every single time. Although America's majority is grateful for what our loved ones gave, and often express their gratitude — the actual support is extremely sparse.

A nation honors, but I am not yet convinced our nation remembers, because our scars as a country, and the wounds we have suffered by the lives of our treasured warfighters lost — America's smartest, bravest, and most elite have given their lives and raised their right hand at a moment's notice so we could sleep peacefully at night. They knew all full well most Americans' apathy of those who have paid with their lives to make it so.


Jane Horton's husband, Spc. Christopher D. Horton, 26, of Collinsville, Okla., was killed in Paktia province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 9, 2011, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire. He had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Oklahoma National Guard)
These warriors have left behind wives and husbands who loved their warfighter enough to travel around with them and put their own career aside or on hold to change duty stations or care for a family at a moment's notice when their service member deployed or was called to duty. These very same husbands and wives are left to pick up the pieces, to find a career and become the sole breadwinner and income-earner in a home where a gold star banner with their fallen hero's name proudly hangs in their front window.

These spouses of the fallen, we spouses of the fallen, need America's help, love and support to pick up the pieces as well. Although our wounds may not be visible, and mine may not always be raw, I am forced to hide my wounds and battle scars, and pretend that I am not walking around with only half of what I once was. I walk with a limp.

These wounds and scars do not just go away with time, often time illuminates them, and the segregation we feel in an America that will never truly understand what we have been through is such heavy baggage to carry that I would not wish on my worst enemy. The load is heavy and the burden tiresome — but the incredible mission of carrying on the legacy and honoring our fallen heroes is worth every limp and sharp pain or infection of the emotional and physical wounds that we have contracted being families ripped apart by war.

Our nation cannot continually Band-Aid our wounds by declaring us a national treasure and priority, yet pass us by while our legitimate needs are overlooked.

We are the ones who have paid the highest price. We need America to bind together and help us heal. We need the support, we need jobs, we need empowerment, and most of all we need America to remember. Remember their stories and their spirit of sacrifice and service. Remember those who were willing to go to a place dubbed "Hell on Earth" only to take their last breath there as a passionate and sacrificial last full measure of devotion to their God, their nation and their loved ones.

America, I ask you, as these wars wind down and your eyes and hearts turn to the veterans to bind up their wounds — as they should — please do not forget the small population whose wounds might not be visible. Their families are not whole, they never will be or feel whole again. You cannot replace what was lost, but we ask you to look at us as well as we need your help to rebuild our lives, our families, and our country.

Please America, I beg you, do not forget about our nation's fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, and children of our nation's fallen. We need you more than ever, and as we rebuild please do not forget us.

Our loved ones who paid it all did not forget you.

Jane Horton, widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, is military family adviser for Concerned Veterans for America. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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