Memorial Day is one the most difficult days of the year for our servicemembers, Veterans, families, and survivors. While some will celebrate the holiday with picnics and vacations, many of us will be remembering those we lost — our shipmates, battle buddies, wingmen, and Marines who died for our country.

Out of the many famous and impactful quotes I have heard over the years, one stands out in particular: "Ceremonies are important. But our gratitude must be more than visits to the troops, and once-a-year Memorial Day ceremonies. We honor the dead best by treating the living well.” — Jennifer Mulhern Granholm, former Governor of Michigan.

Those simple and impactful words serve as an “ah-ha” moment to channel our energy into thoughtfulness, generosity, and kindness — throughout the year. We honor our nation’s heroes by creating positive experiences, harmonious communities, and a country that respects the freedoms they gave their lives protecting.

I have the incredible honor of serving Illinois’ nearly 600,000 Veterans as the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA). Each day, I witness a dedicated and talented staff serve Veterans through our Field Service Offices and our five residential homes in Anna, Chicago, LaSalle, Manteno, and Quincy. Each day, our teams arrive at work to help Veterans thrive in Illinois. This is just one of the many ways we honor the Veterans who have gone before us.

Over the past two years, I have met Veterans who served our country in every major conflict beginning with World War II. We honor their legacy by learning about them and helping them reach their career, education, health care, and housing goals. Our Veteran Service Officers are positioned around the state to work one-on-one with Veterans to discuss their personal and family aspirations and assist them in obtaining their earned benefits and services. Illinois’ Veterans are IDVA’s north star, and we honor their service with support customized to their individual needs.

Returning to Illinois just a few years ago was a homecoming of sorts. My wife and I met at Great Lakes many years ago, married at the Bluejackets Chapel, and kicked off our lives right here in Illinois. Thirty years later, we are wholly dedicated to honoring all Veterans: those who lost their lives and those who are still with us today.

Being a Veteran is a unique experience, one that less than one percent of our population will ever know. I’m asking everyone to remember the community’s role in the lives of our Veterans, their families, and survivors. Join us on Memorial Day (and every day) in tribute of those who served. The smallest gesture — planting a tree, volunteering, or checking in on a Veteran who is alone, can make a tremendous difference. Simple gestures have enormous impact, and if we all share in this effort, we will continue to nurture a world that truly honors those who have given their lives.

We know there is so much love and support going on in our communities. This Memorial Day, remember the words of Gary Sinise (AKA “LT Dan”), “While we can never do enough for our defenders and their loved ones, we can always do a little more.”

Blessings to you on this Memorial Day.

Terry Prince, 31-year Veteran of the United States Navy, 14th Director of the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps and Force Master Chief of Navy Medicine

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