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Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and where my son fits in.

It’s a decision I struggle with every year. Should I celebrate my son X’avier, who served in the Army National Guard on Veterans Day? Or do I wait until Memorial Day, because he is no longer alive?

I’m confused because my Army-veteran son wasn’t killed in combat or military training. No. My son was shot and killed in 2013 in east Atlanta, and I still haven’t figured out which military holiday is meant for him.

The military community has become more vocal about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day in the last few years, and rightly so. 

Veterans Day, which falls on November 11 every year, is meant to celebrate and honor those Americans who served in the U.S. military. No matter which branch, whether they served in combat or not, Veterans Day is for living former service members. Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is the day that we mourn and honor those who died carrying out their military duties—those who sacrificed their lives for our country.

These are meant to be mutually exclusive holidays. That means we shouldn’t celebrate living veterans on Memorial Day, and we shouldn’t focus on the dead on Veterans Day.

Nichole Villafane and her son X'avier
Nichole Villafane and her son X’avier

But where does my son fit in?

X’avier was 21-years old when he died. A charismatic young artist, he was studying at Savannah College of Art & Design. When he joined the Army National Guard, he scored in the 95th percentile on his military vocational tests and was trained as a geospatial engineer. 

But, he never had the chance to serve his country in the way he’d imagined. Nor did he get to finish college. My son, who swore to protect this country was murdered on our own soil, by a citizen he pledged to defend.

It was the day after Christmas. X’avier was on his way to paint a mural with his fiancee near the Beltline in Atlanta. He felt safe in the area because it was near a park where he taught children how to skateboard. But then a 14-year old boy and a 22-year old man attempted to rob my son, his fiancee, and their friend. X’avier tussled with the man, who had pushed his girlfriend. Lying on the ground, the man instructed the boy to shoot, and he ended my son’s life.

There are no holidays to mourn and commemorate military veterans who were killed by gun violence in the United States. To me, X’avier’s story fits the purposes of both Veterans Day and Memorial Day, yet in some ways fits neither. I simply don’t know when to elevate him, the man he was, and the soldier he was to become.

Therefore, I celebrate, mourn, and commemorate X’avier every day—Veterans Day and Memorial Day included. I do so by fighting to end gun violence in this country by any means necessary. That’s the least I can do for X’avier.

So, this Veterans Day, when you’re thinking about how to best honor the veteran community, think about my son, who volunteered to serve in the Army, but never got to complete his enlistment term. Think of my son, whose time serving his country was cut short, because he was killed by gun violence.

Thank my son for his service by urging our lawmakers to help prevent future tragedies like the one that took his life. Tell your U.S. Senators to take action to strengthen background checks on gun sales, so that guns don’t fall into dangerous hands. And if you are a gun owner, be sure that your guns are stored securely and separate from ammunition, lest they fall into the wrong hands and are used to commit violence.

This Veterans Day—to honor the memory of my son, X’avier, an Army veteran—stand up for common sense gun violence prevention laws like I do.

And then do it again on Memorial Day, and Independence Day, and Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. Every day, until we can end this senseless gun violence.

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