SEAL who shot bin Laden: Don't wish me a happy Memorial Day

Don’t wish me a happy Memorial Day. There is nothing happy about the loss of the brave men and women of our armed forces who died in combat defending America. Memorial Day is not a celebration.

Memorial Day is a time for reflection, pause, remembrance and thanksgiving for patriots who gave up their own lives to protect the lives and freedom of us all – including the freedom of generations long gone and generations yet unborn. We owe the fallen a debt so enormous that it can never be repaid.

Memorial Day is a time to honor the lives of those who would rather die than take a knee when our national anthem is played. But they will fight and die for the rights of those who kneel.

This holiday is a time to think of young lives cut short, of wives and husbands turned into widows and widowers, of children growing up without a father or mother, of parents burying their children.

Memorial Day is a time to think of might have beens that never were. Of brave Americans who put their country before themselves. Without these heroes, America would not be America.

Unfortunately, for many Americans this solemn holiday might as well be called Summer Day – marking the unofficial start of the season of barbecues, days at the beach, time spent on baseball fields and golf courses, hiking and enjoying the great the outdoors. All those things are great – we all appreciate them and they are some of the best things in life.

But Memorial Day is not Summer Day. Nor was the holiday created as a way to promote sales of cars, furniture or clothes.

Another Memorial Day brings with it a whole lot more than the start of summer. Since last Memorial Day, grass is now growing above the final resting places of many young men and women whose lives were taken too soon while defending our country in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other far-off places many Americans have rarely heard of.

When Army Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed last October in an ISIS ambush in Niger, many Americans asked: We have troops in Niger? These unknown soldiers lost their lives protecting you – every one of you reading these words.   

Think about this: Millions of high-school seniors are walking across auditorium stages this season, receiving their diplomas. Most will go on to college or jobs, but some will choose a career of military service, joining the second generation of American warriors fighting in the Global War on Terror – a war that began with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that took the lives of almost 3,000 people in our homeland.

Most of these new recruits – who were not even born or who were just infants when the 9/11 attacks took place – will make it home just fine. But some will not. I pray that I am wrong, but the sad truth is that the number of American war dead on Memorial Day in 2019 will be higher than it is on this Memorial Day.  

On Memorial Day, I salute my brothers and sisters-in-arms who have served beside me in War on Terror. My heart especially goes out to the families of those who did not return home. In fact, I think about all those who served and those who have given their lives fighting for America from our county’s earliest days in the Revolutionary War. They all have my gratitude.

We think we are strong, but in war any of us can be turned into just a memory in an instant. And war seems to have been the universal experience of just about every society on the planet at one time or another, for as long as there have been human societies.

How do we stop the wars resulting in such tragic waste of lives? How do we stop the number of American war dead and war dead in other nations from growing? I wish I knew the answer. But battle lines are being drawn and redrawn, and wars and terrorist attacks just keep going on and on. Weapons are getting bigger. Bombs are becoming smarter and more lives are being lost every day all over the world, leading to more death, more anger and more war.

Some are so loyal to their cause that they strap bombs on their bodies or fly passenger jets into buildings. They conduct beheadings. They set prisoners on fire. How do we find common ground with them? Do we even try to find common ground, or do we finally take the gloves off and start landing punches intended to take our enemy out for good?

I’ve been on over 400 Army combat missions and have seen more war than most Americans. More than I care to remember, but cannot forget. There is never a shortage of war. War spreads faster than fire and like fire it leaves destruction in its wake.

It hurts my heart as an American every time I see another service member’s body being brought home draped in an American flag. But it hurts my heart as a human being with every act of war we are all unleashing against each other around the world.

This Memorial Day, I urge all Americans to remember all the fallen sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members who have so bravely served our country, as well as their families.

And I urge all Americans to join me in the hope and prayer that somehow, someday people around the world will focus more on our similarities than our differences and that we will move closer to a time when war is just a memory – part of our past but not our future.

Robert O'Neill is a Fox News contributor and ex-Navy SEAL best known as “the man who killed Usama bin Laden.” O'Neill joined the Navy in 1996 and deployed as a SEAL more than a dozen times, participating in more than 400 combat missions across four different theaters of war.