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Memorialday24 hero
• May 20, 2024

Memorial Day is a special day of reflection for all Americans on the sacrifices of those who have given their lives in military service.

It will be particularly poignant this year for Rob West, TD Bank Community Development Manager of Central and North Florida, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and U.S. Marine Corps, and Victor Joseph, Senior Business Analyst for TD Bank's Credit Card Unsecured Lending (CCUL) Franchise Delivery Vertical and a veteran with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Reserve.

This year, Rob will be attending a ceremony in Lakeland, Florida taking place at a monument dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers, a calvary regiment of Black soldiers. Recently, he has also been thinking a lot about how he spent Memorial Day last year, when he attended the 100 Year Commemoration Ceremony of the Florida Negro World War Veterans Memorial in Tampa, Florida. During segregation, Black service members could only be buried in Black cemeteries. Memorial Park was the first Black cemetery in Tampa and more than 800 service members from WWI, WWII and the Korean War are resting at this hallowed site.

"Last year, there was one gravestone that caught my attention. It said the man was a combat engineer, and I was a combat engineer in the Marine Corps. It resonated with me," Rob said. "Someone just like me is laid there to rest. There is a sense of family in the military. Every time there is a (military) action, I feel a hole in my heart when we lose a service member."

Victor, who works in Fortson, Georgia, will be visiting the grave of his late father at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery – World War II, Korean and Vietnam Army veteran Benjamin Smith Sr., who died last year. Victor also will pay tribute to the other veterans buried at the site.

"Memorial Day is going to be different this year," Victor said. "I am going to pay respects to him not only as my father, but as a veteran. He was a drill sergeant and he taught me so much. He is why I am what I am today. My father said joining the military was the best choice he ever made. His respect for the military and his death makes me honor those who lost their lives in service even more."

Listen to the stories of our veterans

Rob has immense gratitude for his military experience and the sacrifices that so many in the military have made over the years. He also takes pride in his many family members over the years who have served in the military since the Civil War.

He has fond memories of hearing stories about his father Robert West Sr., and his time as a Marine and the lessons he learned.

"We had a great relationship, and he had incredible stories," Rob said. "When he passed, hearing those same stories from other people made it even more incredible."

From his own personal experience and outside data, Rob suggested one way to honor this Memorial Day is to encourage people to not just thank a veteran for their service but ask them what they did.

"Most vets don't think they did enough," he said. "If they had a buddy who died, they may think 'how can you thank me when someone gave more than me?' It's better to ask veterans what they did, and what organizations they support."

Rob is very active both at work with the veterans' business group at TD, and he helps mentor fellow veterans at the bank. He also volunteers outside of work by leading financial educational workshops.

"TD Bank is doing a good job with supporting veterans," he said. "And we continue to recruit and retain veterans. We are making some good efforts."

Reflect on the bravery of our heroes

Victor was inspired to join the military during his high school years because of the strong example of his father.

"He would help me prepare my uniform, help me get it right, because you had to make sure you were ready for inspection as a leader in ROTC, " he said. "Everyone looked up to my father, including me, because he was always in a leadership role."

While Victor joined the Navy and his father served in the Army, the two men enjoyed sharing experiences.

"Many conversations used to be about just that contrast and we would laugh and joke about it. That's one thing I'm going to miss," Victor said.

Once Victor started his military service, Memorial Day changed from a fun start of the summer to a day of reflection.

"Take some time to reflect even if you don't have anyone in your family that was in the military," Victor said. "We have some of the bravest men and women that served. That's something to just take a moment and think about what freedom is. It took a lot of sacrifice. When you reflect and think about that, it could make you want to get more involved. "

Victor notes that he primarily talks about the sorrow of losses to others with whom he served, something he shared with his father.

"I remember the men my father served with would come to visit once a year around the beginning of summer," Victor said. "They would hug and talk about everything."

Even with few words said, Victor knows how deeply his father felt "as our approach to communicating about those losses were similar."

"All of us in the military, we make our sacrifices even when we don't make the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "But the ultimate sacrifice is something that we honor. We may have lost personal friends. We may have lost people within units that we've worked with. It's all around us. When I left the military, I missed the camaraderie. The camaraderie comes because we work together, we eat together, we sleep together. We're literally a family. When you lose one of those family members in the military, that is what Memorial Day is to us."

Want to learn more about Memorial Day?
Redefining Wounded: Travis Mills - Recalibrated Veteran, Successful Entrepreneur, and Passionate Advocate
The Real Meaning of Memorial Day and Why it's Important to Know
Memorial Day: A Veteran's Mission to Remember the Fallen Soldiers

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