No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.” – General Douglas MacArthur

On Oct. 6, 2013, Capt. Jennifer Moreno, an Army nurse, was supporting the 75th Ranger Regiment during a special operations raid on a compound in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. During the raid, a series of improvised explosive devices (IED) were triggered. As Capt. Moreno, a San Diego native, rushed to the aid one of the injured soldiers, another IED exploded. She was killed.

Capt. Moreno was only 25 years old.

On Memorial Day, the nation paid tribute to her and the more than 1.2 million Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

For the first time in three years, the USS Midway Museum was able to share its Memorial Day ceremony with the public. Nearly 400 people, many of them veterans, attended the commemoration that included a wreath laying and missing-man aircraft flyover.

Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler, Commander, U.S. Third Fleet, shares a moment with 95-year-old retired Capt. Jacob Morgan and his wife Linda during the Memorial Day ceremony on the USS Midway Museum.

“What a more fitting place to remember our fallen then on the USS Midway,” said Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet. “Today, we remember that freedom isn’t free and that the American way of life and the democracy that enables it must be guarded with unrelenting vigilance.”

Joining the admiral as guest speakers for the ceremony were San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria and Kayla Mae Terrell, a 12-year-old Girl Scout.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony on the USS Midway Museum

Mayor Gloria spoke to his deep family connection to the armed forces – all four of his grandparents came to the United States because of their association with the military – and why Memorial Day is even more important in San Diego.

“I’m honored to represent a proud military town,” said the mayor. “It’s a solemn day in our nation’s history that we convene every single year to remember those who
have created the opportunity for us to come together as a people. It’s important to take just a brief moment of time to express our appreciation.”

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, has its roots in the days following the Civil War when mourners honored those killed by decorating their graves with flowers. In 1971, Congress officially changed the holiday to Memorial Day.

“It’s incredibly important to take time out of our lives to recognize and honor the heroes who have given their lives in service to our nation,” said Vice Adm. Koehler, whose father commanded Fighter Squadron 161 (VF-161) on Midway from 1976-1977. “Each of these brave Americans served a cause that was greater than themselves. This day belongs to the memories of heroes who gave their life for us and our country.”

For Kayla Mae Terrell, a 6th grader at Ocean View Hills Elementary School in San Diego, she doesn’t know a world where those wearing the uniform of the nation are not defending democracy on battlefields around the globe.

“For me, Memorial Day is about sacrifice,” said Kayla, a Cadette Girl Scout with Troop 6116. “Each year, my troop and I place American flags at the headstones of our military members as a show of respect and appreciation. We say the name of a service member to acknowledge their sacrifice and dedication to our country, and to ensure they will never be forgotten.”

Decoration Day and ultimately Memorial Day was established to ensure that the country doesn’t forget the fallen. For the family of Capt. Moreno, there is a chair at the dinner table that will forever remain empty.

“She represented the best of our community,” said Mayor Gloria. “We must not simply use her name every now and again.”

Girl Scout Kayla Mae Terrell speaks to the audience at the Memorial Day ceremony on the USS Midway Museum.

Earlier this year, the VA Medical Center in La Jolla, through legislation signed by President Biden, was renamed the Jennifer Moreno Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“This is an appropriate tribute for a great San Diegan,” reflected the mayor. “She is just one of the many people who has allowed us to be here. I hope you all will remember her.”

Never forget.

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