Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival of liberty.” – John F. Kennedy
The weather has turned warm and school is near completion when Memorial Day arrives to mark the unofficial arrival of summer. For most of us, it is a day off from work — often celebrated with family and friends. Memorial Day is a day unlike any other, but not because it is a good day for a family barbecue. Its purpose is much more meaningful.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for the men and women who have died while serving. For almost a century and a half, we have set aside a day to place flowers and flags on the graves of those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country.
Even before the Civil War, people honored the graves of the war dead. However, the National Memorial Day holiday, originally known as ‘Decoration Day,’ was first observed nationally on May 30, 1868 to honor the Union and Confederate dead. Later, it encompassed all of those — from the Revolutionary War to the present — who sacrificed their lives for our nation. Our country celebrated Memorial Day on May 30 until it became a national holiday in 1971 and observed on the last Monday of May.
Fearing that Memorial Day was losing its significance in the minds of younger generations, a national humanitarian organization based in Washington, D.C. developed the idea of a National Moment of Remembrance. Introduced in 1997 and recognized by the President and Members of Congress, the National Moment of Remembrance is now an accepted practice. At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, “Taps” rings out throughout America to honor the contributions of our fallen heroes. At that same time (3 p.m.), all Americans are encouraged to pay respect to the soldiers who have given their lives by having a moment of silence in their memory.
Our American sons and daughters who have died in battle did so to preserve our principles, our freedoms and our future. As we visit the cemeteries and note the dates of their shortened lives on the headstones, we know who many of them were. We know they left behind loved ones who missed them – or, in more recent tragedies, still miss them.
Each generation of the fallen has left a legacy of freedom. They taught their children the value of sacrifice and virtue — necessary conditions of freedom — and taught us the love of country. Because of their sacrifices, we have the privilege of living in an open society where we can be lovers of liberty and equality — without fear of persecution.
How can we possibly honor such sacrifices?
Perhaps we can honor by making certain that their stories are told to our children and their children to ensure that we keep alive the spirit for which our country and its principles are worth dying and remembering those who gave their lives. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “the nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
Perhaps — as we remember — we can also issue a sincere thank you to all those who have given their lives — and those who will give their lives — to make sure that this island of liberty continues.
Perhaps, along with Abraham Lincoln, we can say, “Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.”
And, we can pray that one day no more of our brave soldiers have to die to preserve freedom. Until that day, we can remember all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and honor those who continue to give their lives.
Abraham Lincoln spoke about honoring those lost on the terrible altar of war. The man who possibly knew more than anyone about the horrors and sacrifices of war said memorials were “for us, the living,” and added that the ultimate meaning of such memorials is to ensure that “these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under god, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
On Monday, as you gather with family and friends or enjoy a day off from work or school, I hope you will join me in remembering those who have fallen — not in vain — to protect our freedoms. At 3 p.m., unite with other citizens around our nation in a moment of silence — and prayer if you believe in a higher being — to honor our fallen heroes from all branches of service.
God bless you — and all those who have fought for our country and those serving today in the U.S. and on foreign soil.