Commemoration Day: we must never forget the stories of our heroes

The country will fall silent at 11.30am on Thursday, as we remember those who have lost their lives in service of this country

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 3, 2017:    General view of Wahat Al Karama, UAE's martyrs' memorial, across from Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on September 3, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

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The country will fall silent on Thursday morning, the frenetic activity of our daily lives will pause for a minute at 11.30am, as the nation stops to remember its heroes, those who have lost their lives in service of this country. This year marks the third annual Commemoration Day, but the story of the day itself begins 46 years ago.

On November 30, 1971, Salem Suhail bin Khamis was the head of the six-strong police force on the island of the Greater Tunb. Khamis was killed after he refused to lower the Ras Al Khaimah flag when confronted by hostile Iranian forces. He lost his life in service of a country that had yet to be born, with union day still two days away on December 2, 1971. Interviewed by this newspaper in 2012, Khamis’s elder brother Harib said: "My brother did his job. He gave his blood for his country. When one knows his country, he does not give up on it.”

His words resonate as strongly today as they did then. The feeling of extraordinary pride and enormous loss the Khamis family experienced in 1971 will be echoed around the country on Thursday in households and families who have lost loved ones. September 2015 provided, perhaps, the most painful reminder of that sacrifice, when more than 50 Emirati soldiers perished in a single attack in Yemen during Operation Restoring Hope. That conflict continues, more losses have been incurred, and it is incumbent on us all to remember the quiet dignity of, and give thanks to, those who have served and continue to serve this proud nation so that our security and safety is preserved today and tomorrow.

No place better embodies that sentiment that Wahat Al Karama, meaning “the oasis of dignity”, in Abu Dhabi. More than 30 vast tablets lean against each other signifying unity, loyalty, solidarity and strength. At the far end of the site sits the serene Pavilion of Honour, its interior walls clad with aluminium plates fashioned from armoured vehicles that have previously been deployed by the Armed Forces. Illuminated plates are dotted around the pavilion’s walls and each lit slab is engraved with the name and details of a fallen hero and the date of death, beginning with Khamis in 1971. More illuminated plates will be added this year, a further reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice the Armed Forces make each day of the year.

As Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said: “Our martyrs of duty are true models in our history.” They are the heroes of this country. We must never forget their stories, we must always honour their duty and service.