“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
– Joseph Campbell
Memorial Day is a day for heroes – an opportunity to remember those who gave their lives in service of something greater than themselves. While we rightly commemorate the sacrifices of those who came before us, it is also important to gratefully acknowledge that we are still surrounded by modern-day heroes who continue to fight for the most important of America’s founding principles: Life.
Like many Americans, I come from a family of heroes – generations of ordinary people who chose to serve their nation and their families with equal dedication. My grandfather, Francis “Al” Burke, served in the U.S. Navy in the years leading up to World War II. My father, Dennis Burke, spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in Vietnam.
As a little girl, I could often be found clomping around the house in my father’s combat boots or crisply marching off to bed to a drill-sergeant cadence. For all the fun my family had with the outward symbols of military service, it was the military’s core principles of dedication, honor, service, and sacrifice that remained with me.
After graduating law school, it was my turn to serve. Following in my father’s footsteps, I was commissioned as an Air Force officer and served for 14 years, both on active duty and in the Reserves. I have many wonderful and poignant memories of my time in uniform. Easily one of the most vivid is the early fall day when I was returned to active duty in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. My new job at AUL and my everyday life were obviously disrupted by this call to wartime service, but the sacrifices were well worth the costs. I was given an inestimable gift: the chance to defend everything that I loved and to serve an end far more important than my own plans or desires.
Service in what is now America’s longest war was not my only or last opportunity to serve with heroes. For the last 15 years as an attorney with AUL, I have worked with men and women who have dedicated their lives and sacrificed professionally and financially for the sake of a profound truth: everyone should be welcomed in life and protected in law. Yet again, I am grateful to be counted among those who daily focus their attention and efforts on a greater good.
My thoughts and prayers this Memorial Day turn to those who – like me – have worn our nation’s uniform and served with honor and distinction in places like Normandy, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They also reflect the pride and tremendous respect I feel for my current “comrades in arms” at AUL and in the larger pro-life movement. It has truly been an honor to serve alongside these selfless and dedicated heroes.