Today is Memorial Day. For many of us, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. Officially, Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day commemorates U.S. men and women who died during active duty in the military. The United States Federal holiday was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action (Source: Wikipedia).
For me, Memorial Day is about paying our respects to those that have died fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans. Regardless of your opinion of war, you’d be hard-pressed to find a true American that doesn’t appreciate the service our veterans have provided in defense of our freedoms. Without the sacrifices of so many who have served in the military over generations, this right that we take for granted might not exist today.
As a blog dedicated to journalism topics, I’m frequently reminded of our First Amendment rights and freedom of the press. It’s easy to take freedom of the press for granted. Most of us have always had it. Yet in many parts of the world, citizens do not enjoy this same freedom. According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 20 journalists have been killed by those that don’t believe in this freedom. This pales in comparison to the more than 60 journalists and media professionals killed around the world in 2008 and 87 killed in 2007. Clearly, many countries do not value freedom of the press.
But back to Memorial Day. Soldiers are not the only ones that die protecting this freedom during times of war. Since the fighting began in Iraq in March 2003, more than 225 journalists and media assistants have been killed. These men and women represent some of the finest individuals to ever represent the profession of journalism, willing to risk everything they had to report on the events of our time.
While Memorial Day is a time to remember soldiers who have died in active service to our country. It’s also a good time to reflect on the journalists – some military personnel, some citizens like you and me – who have given their lives to preserve the rights we believe in as citizens of a free society.
I have an incredible amount of respect for journalists serving in the military, and civilian journalists serving in embedded, active combat roles. Organizations like the U.S. Defense Information School (DINFOS) play a big part in training soldiers to also work in communications roles. The school trains more than 3,500 students each year, personnel from all branches of the U.S. military, in public affairs, print and electronic journalism, photography, and television and radio broadcasting. The school also trains civilian U.S. government employees and military students from nearly 70 countries around the world. Many of the students trained in these programs aid embedded journalists who report on armed conflicts while attached to a U.S. military unit.
A quote from the U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Stan Travioli, in an article about military journalists on the America.gov website, hit home for me:
“A communications job offers no shield against bullets or bombs. Whatever their communications speciality, DINFOS graduates are soldiers first, and some find themselves doing their jobs in the thick of combat.”
Military journalists are a special breed of soldiers, serving a dual purpose that is easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things. To remember those who have died in the line of duty, the military school has created a Hall of Heroes, dedicated to “heroes of communications”, which pays tribute to more than 100 military communicators who have died in combat since the Korean War.
As you take time this Memorial Day to remember all the soldiers who have died serving our country, take a moment to pay tribute to the military journalists and civilian journalists who have also died during times of war. They didn’t do it for the glory, they did it because it was their right and duty as Americans. They did it for all of us. Happy Memorial Day to all of you.