LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Every Memorial Day, retired Air Force Colonel Mark Roland makes the difficult trip to his son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery, but not this year because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
It’s something most families who have lost a loved one in military service are dealing with during the pandemic.
“It’s a club that we never really wanted to be members of, but when you become a member of that club you need to embrace one another and take strength from the other people that are experiencing the same thing you are,” Roland said.
This year that embrace will be virtual, but the emotion every Memorial Day brings is a constant reality.
“That’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” Roland said. “When somebody knocks at the door at 3:40 in the morning and you look out the door and there are people in uniform, you know what they’re here for.”
In 2015, military officials were there to tell the Roland’s that their son, 27-year old Matthew, who was a captain in the Air Force, had been killed in action in Afghanistan. By sacrificing his own life, he had saved many others.
That kind of selfless leadership was something Matthew Roland showed at an early age by becoming an Eagle Scout.
“He had talked about wanting to be a pilot, and he looked at me one day and said this is what I want to do because I want to be able to lead from the start,” Roland said.
He did take the lead – first, at Lexington Catholic, then the Air Force Academy, and finally on the battlefield.
“He was well respected by everyone for the way that he did his job,” Roland said.
Matthew Roland was a decorated soldier, including earning a Bronze Star. After his death, he was awarded a Silver Star, joining less than 100 airmen to receive the honor.
“It gave us closure at that point,” Roland said. “As a parent, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Roland was assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, and his team was called the ‘Gunslingers.’ Roland keeps the team’s flag with the initials of those who have died since 9/11.
“This is our way to remember them going forward and to make sure we speak their names and that their names are heard,” Roland said.
Roland also keeps a photo of 20 airmen who are missing in action since 9/11 to keep their memories alive.