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On Memorial Day, Remembering US War Dead

A marine presents the widow with a folded American flag.

A marine presents the widow with a folded American flag.

Monday was observed as Memorial Day, a day to pause and reflect on the many who have died serving in the military. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attended services to honor the dead. Some of those who died gave their lives not for their homeland but for their adopted country.

Rifle volleys for the most recent member of the military buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in Afghanistan.

A Marine presents the widow with a folded American flag. But it is not the flag of his birthplace. Nicolas Parada-Rodriguez moved from El Salvador to the United States when he was five years old.

Immigrants began serving in the military during America's Revolutionary war in the late 1700s. Currently 29,000 legal immigrants are serving in the U.S. military. About 8,000 enlist every year.

Major Dan Wood is a commander in the U.S. Army. Ten percent of his unit are immigrants.

"Someone who emigrates to the United States certainly views those freedoms that America offers as something to be sought after," Wood explained. "Otherwise they wouldn't come. So their fighting for those freedoms would seem for me to be a natural occurrence."

Sergeant Uday Singh moved from his home in Chandigarh, India to Chicago, more than 16,000 kilometers away.

There he enlisted in the US Army and was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas. He was the gunner on a humvee in Iraq when his unit came under fire and he was killed.

The U.S. Army flew Singh's body back to India for cremation and burial.

Some of Singh's ashes were buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

His two aunts visited his gravesite in Section 60, the area reserved for those who die in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Had he loved India more, he would have gone back to India to join the defense forces. He chose to join the U.S. defense forces. Maybe that shows how much he loved America," said Neere Princy, Singh's aunt from Jharkhand, India.

Meters away, on the same sacred ground, Vice President Joe Biden laid the traditional Memorial Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, honoring all U.S. war dead, be they American citizens or not. President Barack Obama did the same at a cemetery near Chicago.

Immigrants who enlist in the U.S. military earn an expedited route to citizenship. Singh's aunt says that is not the only reason immigrants join.

"I feel when we move to these countries we have to adopt everything good, bad, brave and not so good about these countries. So I feel the immigrants belong in the army as much as the non-immigrants do," sais Rak Brar, Singh's aunt from Edmonton, Canada.

The U.S. military feels the same way and offers full honors at the end of their lives, no matter where they began them.