It’s often regarded as the unofficial start to summer, but the long holiday weekend that’s typically marked by barbecues and beach days actually carries a much heavier meaning, and it’s something organizations who serve our nation’s military service members, Veterans and their families are hopeful doesn’t fall by the wayside this Memorial Day.

Operation Gratitude, giving back and paying it forward

Nearly half of Operation Gratitude staff are military Veterans or spouses, many of whom will tell you they came on board because of their desire to give back to military service members and other first responders.

gold star mother janice chance

Gold Star Mother and Chaplain Janice Chance volunteers with Operation Gratitude to honor her son, Jesse Melton, who was killed in action in 2008.

“It’s the ability to be able to serve every day post-active duty service,” said Rich Headley, senior director of Military and Veteran Programs. “[At Operation Gratitude] we pride ourselves on our service and our commitment to the communities we serve because we give opportunities to other people – both Veterans and those who’ve never been in uniform – to pay it forward or to give back.”

But it’s not just Operation Gratitude staff working to preserve the memory of fallen military heroes. In fact, much of what the organization does is only made possible through volunteer partnerships with others who share the same servant’s heart.

Partnering with Gold Star Mothers

Various chapters of the Gold Star Mothers organization have continuously joined forces with Operation Gratitude to write personal letters of appreciation, craft paracord bracelets and other handmade items, and assemble and deliver care packages to deployed troops to build empathy and awareness surrounding their experiences and preserve the legacy of service their soldier, marine, airman, or sailor left behind.

While our nation takes pause to recognize those who’ve sacrificed their lives in service to their country on this Memorial Day 2021, Operation Gratitude and survivors of these fallen heroes know the weight of that loss is felt 365 days a year. Headley says it’s what drives the organization’s mission to bridge the civilian-service divide through hands-on volunteerism and tangible acts of gratitude.

“We make these relationships with different organizations and different people across the country and I think the one common theme that we see is that they want to do more, they want to use Operation Gratitude to not only say thank you to those who are serving, but sometimes, to create a living memory for all the sons and daughters who have been lost in conflict,” Headley added. “We give them that opportunity. We see it as a responsibility now to make sure we continue to allow others to serve in any capacity using Operation Gratitude.”

Janice Chance lost her son, USMC Captain Jesse Melton, in Afghanistan in 2008. Chance is now the Chaplain of the Gold Star Mothers of Maryland and an active volunteer with Operation Gratitude. She says she’s preserving Jesse’s legacy by continuing to serve others and, for her, that work has made all the difference in her healing process.

“When Jesse made his ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, I determined in my heart I was not going to drown in my tears or be paralyzed by my pain. I know that, for the service members that we deliver care packages to, it’s going to show them that we care. They have put themselves on the line. We’ve got to say ‘We appreciate what you do every day,’ because when they leave their house, they don’t know that they’re going to come back. We need to be a part of making a change in our society and making a difference in people’s lives.”- Janice Chance, Chaplain, Gold Star Mothers, Maryland

Headley says that whether they’ve been touched by the loss of a service member or not, every American has a part in commemorating the lives of fallen heroes today and throughout the year.

Why we have Memorial Day

“Everyone can do something,” Headley continued. “Whether it’s educating your children on what service means to your country or educating your community on why we have Memorial Day – to pay respect to those who’ve gone before us. Take advantage of the day and create a goal in the memory of someone who’s given their life for your freedom. There are ways to do this and you can do it with Operation Gratitude. Volunteer with us and set a goal with one of our service projects. Go for it. Make sure their memory is never forgotten.”

To learn more about Operation Gratitude’s mission and volunteer opportunities, visit

The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on the part of VA.

Share this story

Published on May. 31, 2021

Estimated reading time is 4 min.

Views to date: 311

More Stories

  • The Community Catalyst Award will honor organizations for excellence in building solutions that improve experiences for the Veteran community. 

  • The Dog Tag Fellowship Program for Veterans helps aspiring entrepreneurs learn the ins and outs of running a small business.

  • Free and low-cost resources are available to service members and Veterans that can make legal concerns less burdensome.