Don’t know the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day? Here’s a personal story of mine on why it’s important. (thread)

Remembrance is an underrated form of prayer. When we remember, we encourage that memory. A moment of great character can produce other moments like it when folks take the time to keep that memory alive.
Today, I want to remember one soldier, in particular, who has meant a lot to me. Thing is: I never had the honor of meeting her.
This is Lt. Emily Perez. She’s the first Black woman military officer to die in combat in U.S. history.
Lt. Perez graduated from West Point in 2005, where she was a standout, head and shoulders above her peers. She was the first Black woman cadet and first Latina cadet to serve as Cadet Command Sergeant Major, 2nd highest rank in the Corps.
“Perfection” is technically impossible, and yet, to be selected for Cadet Command Sergeant Major, you practically have to be perfect. Lt. Perez, in her time at West Point, was nearly perfect. Her peers, her instructors, the underclassman she led: all have said this.
It’s such an incredible accomplishment for anyone, but for a Latina and Black woman in a mostly white male environment? Remarkable. Folks openly spoke of Lt. Perez in her short lifetime as the first Black woman president. Such was her reputation and potential.
Fifteen months after she graduated, Lt. Emily Perez was killed-in-action in Iraq by an IED. She was awarded the Bronze Star. She was 23. Shortly after her death, her story appeared on the front page of the Washington Post, where I, then a 19 year-old Army private, read it.
Reading about Lt. Perez in that period of my life inspired me to 1) reenlist a few years later and 2) apply to West Point. In my time at West Point, I would meet “Old Grads”, folks who had graduated and networked and mentored us young cadets.
Again and again, I would meet women of color who were Old Grads and had some kind of connection to Lt. Perez. There’s an unspoken bond among women of color at West Point because they’re so drastically underrepresented.
And I have found that some of my favorite leaders—favorite officers—are women of color influenced by the example of Lt. Perez. It’s inspiring and fascinating that this person whom I’ve never met, who most Americans don’t know about, could have such an impact on me.
In his farewell speech to Congress, Gen. Douglas MacArthur referenced an old barracks song: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.” Memorial Day keeps vibrant the memories of those who deserve least the fading we, as mere mortals, must all experience in death.
As a veteran, I am ever mindful that Memorial Day belongs solely to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Remembering them is paramount.
Today, there will be family get-togethers and BBQs and movies and road trips. As there should be. Enjoy it. But if I could make a small request: look up one of our many fallen women and men in uniform and read their story. Share it with others.
When you put a fresh pair of eyes on that life, a life given for our country, you keep that memory vibrant. Thank you, Lt. Perez /thread
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