MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Memorial Day is especially meaningful for the families, friends and comrades left behind. While veterans today are reflecting on lives lost during combat, they are also thinking of the families left without loved ones and the pain they endure every day.

Their war experiences were different. Landon Steele was a combat medic in Iraq. Chuck Sasse was a flight engineer in World War II.

But the emptiness they carry from the loss of their comrades is the same.

“I wear their bracelets. I have to change them out throughout the year,” Steele said.

Steele wears his emotions on his arm and wrists; tattoos and bracelets that keep those who did not come home close.

“We have to carry their memory. We have to be like our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” Steele said.

The Soldiers’ Cross and words from the Gettysburg Address cover his arm, both of which help him keep Memorial Day in perspective.

“From these honored dead, I take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave their last full measure of devotion. I highly resolve that these dead should not die in vain,” read Steele from his arm.

“The 8th Air Force had the highest casualty rate of World War II,” Sasse said. “And I saw most of them shot down.”

Sasse, age 92, says forgetting is not an option.

“Thinking of all the buddies that did not come back, didn’t have a chance to raise a family or do the things they wanted to do in life,” Sasse said.

Words can’t define the pain these men feel, but the honor of knowing great men and women helps them get through.

Both want people to know Memorial Day is about those who lost their lives defending freedom, as well as for those left behind to tell the stories of the fallen.

“Every day is Memorial Day to the guys who came home,” Steele said.

“I’m a lucky one. The lucky ones came back. The heroes are all over there,” Sasse said.

Both Sasse and Steele keep in touch with the families of their fallen friends. They told WCCO that war gives you an extended family, and an obligation to care for those left behind.

Reg Chapman