The Meaning of Memorial Day by Brendan O’Byrne

Brendan O’Byrne is a former Army Infantry Sergeant that served with the 173rd Airborne. From May 2007 to July 2008, he was stationed in what is considered one of the most dangerous postings of the war – the remote Korengal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan. Brendan is one of the central characters in the documentary films ‘Restrepo,’ ‘Korengal’ and’ ‘The Last Patrol,’ and is featured on the cover of Sebastian Junger’s book ‘War.’


For many, Memorial Day means the official kick-off to the summer season. It is a time to get together with friends, BBQ or shop one of the countless sales commemorating a long weekend. To veterans, those currently serving in the armed forces, and the families of those who died in service to us all, Memorial Day brings emotions that are impossible for most civilians to comprehend.

As a reminder about the true meaning of Memorial Day for those of you in our community, we asked Outward Bound Veteran alum Brendan O’Byrne to share what Memorial Day means to him.

It is appropriate to spend this day living your best life. To laugh, eat and surround yourself with people you love. But please also remember to spend some quiet time to reflect and, as Brendan so poignantly writes, to “remember the cost of the peace we enjoy. These gifts, gifts that we so often take for granted, were bought and paid for with invaluable currency – the lives of great human beings, like Juan S. Restrepo.”

-by Chad Spangler, National Director, Outward Bound Veterans


The True Meaning of Memorial Day

Juan Sebastian Restrepo had a brilliant smile. It could liven up a room of sad faces. It could shake shadows from the corners of a weary heart. He was our medic who took care of us, physically and mentally, in the hard mountains of Afghanistan. The first months of our deployment were filled with near constant combat and danger. Those months were incredibly tough and a lot of men struggled to stay positive. During that time Restrepo’s daily routine was to go from hooch to hooch checking on his guys and lighting the whole valley up with that smile. On incredibly tough days, when a smile was impossible, he would use his guitar to soothe what words couldn’t. He was self-taught yet one of the very best nylon string guitar players I have ever had the privilege to hear play. A rumor going around said he had played as the lead, solo guitarist for an orchestra before the military. In those painful mountains, often between firefights, he went between the hescos and sandbags, brightening the lives of anyone he met.

I remember the day he was hit.

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