May 21, 2024

Memorial Day Used to Be Just Another Holiday. Then I Served in the Marine Corps.

By Mike Betts

Memorial Day used to be just another holiday. Then I served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The change wasn’t overnight. But as another Memorial Day approaches, I find myself seeking solitude and personal challenges—striving to do something difficult—not for glory but because I still can.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to push myself for being here when so many of my brothers and sisters in arms are not. These days, though, a profound sense of gratitude drives me. I have the option to live fully.

Working with veterans and supporting organizations like Leashes of Valor has given me a unique perspective on the true cost of service. The hard fact is that even though the wars have ended, many of us are still fighting. Each day, somewhere between 17 and 22 veterans die by suicide. These aren’t just numbers; they represent lives intertwined with ours, potential unfilled.

This underscores the urgency of our mission.

This Memorial Day, my service dog Tesla will be my side, just like always, nudging away the darkness that threatens to overcome so many veterans who experienced combat and other traumas related to their military service. I’ll hold my children a little tighter. I’ll cherish moments with my wife. I’ll honor the sacrifices made by so many of our servicemembers who fought for the very freedoms I get to enjoy.

I’ll also undertake a personal challenge—a physical and mental test during which I’ll remember those we’ve lost both on the battlefield overseas and the war at home. Afterward, I’ll carve out time for reflection and gratitude for the simple privilege of waking up and lacing my boots each morning.

I’m learning that’s what all those we have lost would have wanted.

Mike Betts served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a wounded combat veteran. He received his service dog, Tesla, from Leashes of Valor. He is an active volunteer for LOV.