Broadening Remembrance on Memorial Day

Honoring Fallen U.S. Government Civilians & Inter-agency Sacrifice Alongside the Military


As Americans get ready to honor the sacrifices of the nation’s military this Memorial Day, is it time to consider broadening the spirit of this U.S. holiday beyond the ‘Armed Forces’?

Originally called Decoration Day, since the Civil War Americans have honored their fallen warriors. Even today when fewer Americans serve in the all-volunteer force, Memorial Day holds a sacred place in the United States. Millions of Americans visit graves and honor the fallen with flags and wreaths. Millions more commemorate their actions in small town ceremonies across America and thousands will even visit overseas cemeteries in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Others attend silent drills, parades or ocean-side fly-bys, fireworks displays or simply spend time with family and friends. All of these commemorations, tombstone decorations and prayerful reflections are ways of remembering America’s brave military men and women who gave their lives so that others might be free.

…this May 25th, I ask you to consider the idea of broadening Memorial Day.

As you walk amongst the rows of headstones at cemeteries, or visit historical landmarks, or simply gather with family and friends this May 25th, I ask you to consider the idea of broadening Memorial Day. Consider recognizing the brave men and women of our other U.S. government departments and agencies, as we do our military, who have also laid down their lives in defense of America, its Constitution, its values and everything else it stands for.

 April 18, 1983, U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

April 18, 1983, U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

April 18, 1983 is just such as a day worth remembering on Memorial Day. On that day 52 people, 17 of them Americans, lost their lives in Beirut, Lebanon in what was then the largest attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility. Some of the dead were military, others were diplomats or C.I.A. officers, while others were civil servants. All made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. There names are etched upon two memorials, one in the State Department’s Harry S. Truman building located in Washington, D.C. and the other is at C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. I submit that few Americans would think to remember these civilian heroes when they reflect upon the fallen military heroes in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

This is not, I believe, out of a conscious neglect, it is just that we simply do not intuitively equate U.S. Government civilians’ service with that of those who take up the profession of arms. One might easily argue that military sacrifice deserves its own day; rightly so, considering the hundreds of thousands of lives laid down over the nearly 240 years of service that began with the creation of the Army in June of 1775. Yet throughout every campaign or war we have ever fought, at home or abroad, and even during peacetime, U.S. government civilians from various departments and agencies have lost their lives serving side-by-side with U.S. military personnel.

 U.S. State Department, American Foreign Service Association

U.S. State Department, American Foreign Service Association

Over this past decade plus of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, US foreign service officers, federal investigators, analysts, and operators from the intelligence community — the ‘Inter-agency’ in action — have fallen in the service of the nation. Just as they were in the past, U.S. government civilians today are deployed in all theaters. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. service men and women and they often find themselves in harms way. The “Inter-agency” in action have served in Provincial Reconstruction Teams, ministerial advisory teams, embassies, consulates or command posts — and many have given their lives. Yet all too often however, their sacrifices go unnoticed by most Americans.

The Inter-agency and its people are the nerve center and backbone of U.S. national power…

In our military’s doctrine and discourse on strategic planning we often make a big deal of the “Inter-agency,” and we must. If strategy is the art of making the possible achievable, through a creative balance of ends, ways and means, I submit that that it is only by, with, and through the Inter-agency that we can hope to achieve any ‘creative’ balance whatsoever. The Inter-agency and its people are the nerve center and backbone of U.S. national power: coordinating policy, sequencing the instruments, conducting diplomacy, collecting and analyzing intelligence, resourcing manpower, managing material and infrastructure, and synchronizing communications.

If we consider the vital role that U.S. Government civilian personnel play in the Inter-agency, can we not equate the sacrifice of those among them who are killed in the line of duty with our military personnel? Widening this hallowed circle would not take much more than committing those names and faces of deceased U.S. Government civilian heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to our collective remembrance this May 25th. As we honor the sacrifices of our American military heroes this Memorial Day, I believe we can find room in our hearts and minds to include U.S. Government civilians and Inter-agency heroes who have lost their lives serving this great nation as well. God Bless all the fallen, their families and America this Memorial Day.


Scott Davis is a U.S. Army officer and veteran of the Iraq War. He is currently a student at the U.S. National War College. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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