There are many national holidays celebrate over the course of a year’s time in our country, but none is more weighty or deserves more solemn reflection than Memorial Day. On this particular Monday, the nation is once again called upon to remember the true cost of freedom. Memorial Day is a day to remember all who have sacrificed their lives to ensure the promise of liberty that is the foundation, indeed the cornerstone, of this nation’s raison d’etre.
This special day of remembrance was first established on May 30, 1868, to remember those who fell during the Civil War. The Civil War was fought both to preserve the Union and to finally put an end to the ultimate contradiction to the American ideal of freedom, that is, the horrifying and inhumane institution of slavery.
The cost paid to free some 4,000,000 slaves was almost incalculable. According to modern estimates, as many as 700,000 men both from the North and the South died in that most deadly war in our history. Since its inception as a national holiday, Memorial Day has also come to represent all who have died in service to the nation from the Revolutionary War to the present.
If you have noticed, the words “memorial” and “remembrance” are the key to understanding this national holiday. Those words seem contradictory to words like the modern meaning of “holiday” or the word “celebration.” But the reality today is that, for most people, this day has become synonymous with just another three-day weekend and with BBQs and travel. As a result, the real meaning and purpose for Memorial Day have been lost on most today.
This video is a very simple, clear explanation of the “real purpose and meaning” of Memorial Day. For those of us who have served in combat and who have had the experience of losing friends on the field of battle, this is the most important national “holiday” of the year. We who knew some of those who now lie beneath the serene, well-manicured lawns of Arlington National Cemetery, or the other national cemeteries around the country like Tahoma National Cemetery in Washington State or Custer National Cemetery at the Little Big Horn National Monument on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, can never forget them.
We remember where and when they fell. We who are now old and grey remember them as young 18- to 21-year-old men, brothers, in the full vigor of their youth. We who have lived these long decades of life, raised families, and worked long productive careers count those who fell as the real heroes. They paid the full cost of freedom with their lives. And we cannot and will never forget them.
This writer realizes that he is “speaking to the choir” here. You readers of the Veterans Site are closely connected to those who have served. Many of you are members of Gold Star Families. You, too, know and have borne that terrible cost of freedom in your hearts and minds over decades. And for some of you, that cost is still a fresh wound, an as-yet unrepaired tear in your family fabric.
We know what this Memorial Day is for, and we will be setting time aside over the weekend, but especially on Memorial Day itself, to remember with our thoughts, our prayers, and even our tears, those who gave their last full measure in service to the noble political and moral value of Freedom. This day is set aside to remember the terrible price that has been paid by so many to keep that freedom alive and well.
This Memorial Day, tell your children and your grandchildren about the men and women you may have known that gave their lives for the privilege of this country’s freedom. While COVID still may prevent major gatherings at Memorial Day events, you might be able to visit a local cemetery or National Cemetery to spend some quiet, respectful moments with the fallen. You will see that their graves are festooned with American flags. You could watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS with Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna, where you can hear inspiring stories about the fallen and hear some great music.
In any case, take time to remember those whose ultimate sacrifice has helped to keep the gift of freedom alive and well in this country for 245 years.
We all pray for the day when we will go to war no more. But we must never forget those who lived in times when the terrible scourge of war forced itself upon us in many ways, for many reasons, and had the courage to put on the uniforms of our Armed Forces and go to the front to defend the walls of freedom against those who would threaten it. We remember those who gave their lives in those efforts…for the rest of us.