Over the course of nearly 20 years, 2,325 U.S. service members sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan to support that country’s democratic future and ensure the safety of their fellow Americans. Nine months after the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan is once more led by the barbarous Taliban, who kill citizens with impunity, terrorize and oppress women and girls, and slowly but surely erase the progress purchased through blood.

Amid this darkness and uncertainty, I spoke with numerous veterans and service members about honoring the sacrifices made by their beloved brothers and sisters in arms this Memorial Day. Despite having varied experiences and backgrounds, their sentiments show the importance of honoring our Afghanistan fallen and supporting one another during a difficult day of remembrance.

In October 2001, U.S. Army veteran John Robert was deployed to Kandahar province. On April 12, 2002, Staff Sgts. Brian T. Craig and Justin Galewski were killed while disposing of ordnance near former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s compound. Robert and his team were charged with recovering their bodies. It was “by far the most difficult” of “a lot of hard days,” he said.

A decade and a half later, Robert held a position in Kabul with the Defense Intelligence Agency while his son was deployed to nearby Bagram Air Base. “It was not lost on me … that my son was fighting the war I started,” Robert told me. As ever, Robert’s gratitude for the sacrifices of Galewski, Craig, and all who gave their lives for our freedom remains unswerving. “We are forever in their debt,” he says.

Former acting Secretary of Defense and retired U.S. Army Col. Christopher Miller said he has experienced emotions of a “soul-shaking intensity” on Memorial Day since returning from Afghanistan in 2002. “I always vowed to remember all the names of the comrades I knew that were killed in action, but so many perished that I can only pray for the families of those that died,” he explained. After finally experiencing a small reprieve from his anguish on Memorial Day in 2021, he was “consumed” by a “profound sadness and anger” after the U.S. withdrawal in August. To avoid “think[ing] about … the butcher’s bill that was paid,” Miller has chosen to spend this Memorial Day in Ukraine.

Dr. Lucas Dyer spent 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps’s infantry after enlisting on a dare in 2000. During the Taliban’s resurgence in 2009, he was deployed to the Nawa district in southern Helmand province. For his heroism under enemy fire in Nawa, Dyer received the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V. He wrote about the successful counterinsurgency campaign in A Battle Won by Handshakes.

The turn of events in Afghanistan has not altered Dyer’s gratitude for the sacrifices made there. “They gave the ultimate sacrifice … so that people like myself could make it back,” he said. “For those that made it, our duties are to share their sacrifice so that the world may know who they are.”

Afghanistan-born Toraj Rozbeh came to the United States in 2015 after his father, who worked alongside U.S. personnel, received a special immigrant visa. Rozbeh joined the National Guard in 2016 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2020. While he “can’t thank enough those men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan,” Rozbeh also feels the withdrawal was “an injustice to many of the remaining family … of those fallen service members who gave their lives in Afghanistan.”

After graduating from his Afghan high school in 2006, Fahim Masoud began working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. His willingness to volunteer for combat missions in the Herat and Farah provinces made an impression on the soldiers he worked beside. In December 2007, a U.S. soldier sponsored Masoud’s student visa to the U.S. Nine years later, Masoud joined the Illinois National Guard. He is now a first lieutenant in the Maryland National Guard. Masoud believes the “botched withdrawal from Afghanistan does not take away from the sacrifices of our soldiers.” Not only did they fight the enemy and “provide stability,” but he also feels the U.S. military helped “millions of Afghan girls and boys … get an education. That is the spirit in which I remember our fallen soldiers in Afghanistan.”

It was political decision-makers rather than the efforts of our service members that dissolved almost two decades of progress in nine months. It is largely our service members and veterans who have borne the emotional impact of those decisions.

Let us support our service members, veterans, and the loved ones of the fallen who may be afflicted with acute grief and anger at this troubling time. As always, let us remember that it is for the living, from all walks of life, to remember the fallen and preserve the purpose and meaning in their selfless sacrifices. May we never fall short in that endeavor.

Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.