Remember the Fallen: How to Commemorate Memorial Day

By: Paul M. Carrion, Esquire

“Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
As the pain goes on and on.”

– Lewis, L. David / Williams, Kim / Hill, Ed, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, Les Misérables, Universal Music.

            Memorial Day was born of Decoration Day, a Civil War-era holiday when people would attend the graves of fallen servicemembers to decorate their graves with flowers. This call to commit an act of somber remembrance has been replaced by a summer holiday in which society asks its members to spare a passing thought to those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”[1]

            During and since my time in service, I lost comrades in arms. On December 24, 2012, SGT Enrique Mondragon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team was killed by small arms fire while on dismounted patrol in Baraki Barak, Afghanistan. He was married and had a two-year old daughter. His last Facebook post was a post of gratitude to his lieutenant, Jorge Minguela’s family for sending a Christmas care package to make Afghanistan feel a little more like home. I was twenty-one years old on my first deployment to Afghanistan; he was twenty-three and on his second deployment. I am now thirty-three; SGT Mondragon will forever be twenty-three.

            On May 30, 2014, SGT Shaina Schmigel, a fellow intelligence analyst with whom I attended Advanced Individual Training in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, jumped from a C-17 as part of a nighttime airborne training jump. She was dragged behind the C-17, became entangled in the next jumper’s suspension lines, and died due to severe neck injuries from that jumper’s suspension lines. Her death was preventable – the jumpmaster of the training mission failed to inspect the static line of her parachute prior to the jump to ensure it was correctly routed and failed to stop the next jumper from leaving the aircraft. Further, the safety of the training mission was out of compliance by five days for completing baseline certification. Both safeties assigned to her door failed to attend the jump master briefing before the training mission. Their collective negligence failed to ensure the safe operation of the airborne operation and directly led to the needless death of SGT Schmigel. She left behind a family whose grief persists to eternity. She was twenty-one years old.

            Unlike Decoration Day, Memorial Day does not call upon the community to visit SGT Mondragon’s grave in Dallas, Texas, nor SGT Schmigel’s grave in Corfu, New York. In between the Memorial Day sales, extended weekend, and backyard BBQs, it may be argued that the public is not tasked with any duty to reflect on the real-life consequences of the sacrifices military duty to the country asks of its all-volunteer force and their families.

            Whenever a national debate emerges on whether we should commit our forces for a given endeavor, we must ensure that the cause is worthy of the inevitable sacrifice of blood, treasure, and lives. We must be worthy of their sacrifices. The best way to honor the departed is to live a life worth living.  I hope that in reading this article, you will be inspired to research their lives, as well as the lives of other servicemembers who died in the line of duty. For those who endure, SGT Mondragon and SGT Schmigel are not abstractions – they live forever in the hearts and minds of those who knew them.

“Tell me how he died.”

“I will tell you how he lived.”

The Last Samurai (2003)

The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur.  To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit or contact Paul M. Carrion, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected].


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[1] Lincoln, Abraham, “The Gettysburg Address”, November 19, 1863.

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