05/27/2011 10:58 am ET Updated Jul 27, 2011

Reflections on Memorial Day

Andy was one of the best lieutenants in our Marine Corps Basic School class. He was smart, motivated, tough, and decisive. I was lucky to have him as my first roommate -- he helped me any way that he could.

At The Basic School (TBS), Marine Corps lieutenants compete against each other for choice of military occupational specialty (MOS), such as infantry, logistics, communication, and artillery. From Day 1 of TBS, the only MOS Andy ever talked about was tanks. He only wanted to be a Tank Officer. Because there were only one or two tank officer slots for our entire company of 180 lieutenants, Andy would need to rank at the very top of our class in leadership, physical fitness, military tactics, and academics in order to achieve his goal.

Even though TBS is full of exceptional young men and women, Andy worked harder than just about anyone else there and ranked number 2 in our entire company at the end of the six month program of instruction. Andy got to pick tanks and became a Tank Officer. Our entire platoon congratulated him as we all knew he had been working toward that goal from the very first day.

Within a year of graduating TBS, I was notified that Andy was killed in Iraq. An IED detonated underneath his tank and killed him instantly.

On Memorial Days like this weekend's, I think about him. I think about the family he left behind. And I think of all the others who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America. I think about their families, as well.

I think about how random it all is -- who become what we call "the fallen." Had Andy just messed up somewhere along the line at TBS, or maybe not tried as hard a day here or there, he would have ended up a couple of slots lower in the final rankings and not gotten his choice of MOS. He wouldn't have been a tanker and wouldn't have been in a tank above an IED that day. The randomness of it all seems so cruel.

There are thousands of stories like that over the course of our military history. Every troop death or injury has a story behind it like Andy's: people who, through a combination of choice and circumstance, ended up making sacrifices that our country will never be able to repay.

I also think about what an amazing country we have that draws people as decent and talented as Andy to service. Throughout my time as a Marine, I found myself in constant admiration and awe of the incredibly young men and women who performed their duties with skill, honor, and grace. Young people barely out of high school demonstrate a stunning degree of professionalism and bearing on a daily basis. I wish every American had the opportunity at some point to see how they carry themselves, perform their duties, handle incredible stress, and sacrifice for our country -- people would be so proud.

This weekend, as we remember the sacrifices by exceptional men and women on behalf of our country so often brought about in part through the cruelty of chance, let's also remember how blessed we are to live in a country that draws such fine people to service.

We are not just a great nation, but a good nation, filled with good and decent people. So today, take a step back, with me, and show gratitude for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who sacrifice every day, and gratitude for what a beautiful country we live in.