“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” —John 15:12-14
“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.” —John Adams
Memorial Day has its origin as “Decoration Day,” when, after the War Between the States, families and friends of both northern and southern war dead, more than 600,000 of them who perished, honored those veterans by decorating their graves.
The first Decoration Day was May 30, 1868, a solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the former estate of Gen. Robert E. Lee. On that day, Congressman (and later president) James Garfield addressed more than 5,000 families of the fallen. Then, as it is now on Memorial Day, the day is specifically set aside to honor those who died in the service of our nation, though more recent observances include all veterans who are now deceased.
In his 1868 call to celebrate Decoration Day as a national holiday, Maj. Gen. John Logan stated eloquently: “Let us then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime. Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor. Let us, in this solemn presence, renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude—the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which changed Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May, creating a 3-day “holiday weekend.” That significantly diluted the original purpose of this solemn and reverent day. Recent polling indicates that only 28 percent of Americans understand the true meaning of Memorial Day. Many confuse it with Veterans Day (honoring Veterans of all wars, living and deceased) and Armed Forces Day (honoring active duty and reserve military personnel).
Today, Memorial Day provides a stark contrast between the best of our nation’s selfless Patriot sons and daughters versus the worst of our nation’s selfish culture and consumerism. Astoundingly, some businesses actually promote a “Memorial Day Sale.” But Memorial Day is NOT for sale. Millions of Patriots have already paid the full price.
Amid the reverent observances honoring the sacrifice of millions of American Patriots who defended Liberty in accordance with their sacred oaths “to Support and Defend” our Constitution, it is unfortunate that too many venders have commercialized Memorial Day. Indeed, Memorial Day has been sold out, along with Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Veterans, Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. And no wonder, given that government schools now substitute grossly adulterated and revisionist history for the civics courses which used to inform young people of their duty as citizens.
Further eroding the meaning of heroic sacrifice, the word “hero” is ubiquitously applied, and often grossly misapplied, to anyone serving others in any capacity — most often by those who have little context for genuine heroics. I spent five years in law enforcement, serving and protecting others, but I am no “hero.”
In his essay “The Contest In America,” 19th century libertarian philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
It is that “decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling” which accounts for why so many “miserable creatures” have downgraded Memorial Day to nothing more than a date to exploit for commercial greed and avarice. While America’s Armed Forces stand in harm’s way around the globe, many Americans are too preoccupied with beer, barbecue and baseball to pause and recognize the priceless burden borne by generations of our uniformed Patriots.
It is also why such “miserable creatures,” are found in abundance today among leftist cadres on college and university campuses, in the leftist halls of the Capitol building and in the slums of their Leftmedia echo chambers.
Many politicos use Memorial Day as nothing more than a soapbox to feign Patriotism, while in reality they are in constant violation of their oaths “to Support and Defend” our Constitution.
That notwithstanding, there are more than one hundred millions genuine American Patriots who will set aside the last Monday in May to honor all those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen who have paid the highest price “refreshing the Tree of Liberty” with their blood, so that we might remain the proud and free. My own family, which humbly descends from generations of American Patriots from the American Revolution forward, will honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s fallen warriors by offering prayer in thanksgiving for the legacy of Liberty they have bequeathed to us, and by participating in respectful commemorations.
Since the opening salvos of the American Revolution, tens of millions of our fellow Americans have served honorably in our Armed Forces, with 1.4 million wounded during their service. But Memorial Day is about a special cohort of American Patriots — the nearly 1.2 million who have paid the ultimate price in defense of Liberty. Their numbers, of course, offer no reckoning of the inestimable value of their service or the sacrifice borne by their families, but we do know that the value of Liberty extended to their posterity — to us — is priceless.
Who were these brave souls?
On 12 May 1962, Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, delivering his farewell speech, “Duty, Honor and Country.” He described the legions of uniformed American Patriots as follows: “Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures — not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.”
Gen. MacArthur continued:
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.
But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory’s eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.
Duty. Honor. Country. These are not for “sales” or “bargain discounts.”
On Memorial Day of 1982, President Ronald Reagan offered these words in honor of 270,000 Patriots interred at Arlington National Cemetery: “I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.”
President Reagan continued:
Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we — in a less final, less heroic way — be willing to give of ourselves.
It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. … The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery.
One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GIs of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way.
As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. … I can’t claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don’t know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: “O! say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” That is what we must all ask.
There are more than 125,000 Americans interred at World War II memorial sites on foreign soil, and another 94,000 are missing and commemorated by name only.
For the fallen, we are certain of that which is noted on all Marine Corps Honorable Discharge orders: “Fideli Certa Merces” — to the Faithful, there is Certain Reward.
Thomas Jefferson offered this enduring advice to all generations of Patriots: “Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them.”
We owe a great debt of gratitude to all those generations who have passed the Torch of Liberty to succeeding generations. In accordance, I humbly ask that each of you call upon all those around you to observe Memorial Day with reverence.
To prepare hearts and minds for Memorial Day, take a moment and read about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Join with other Patriots across the nation who will be placing flags at headstones in your local military cemetery (generally the Saturday prior to Memorial Day).
Consider our national flag, and what it really means to those who have served under it.
What do you think of when you see a little American flag in front of a grave marker? Let me tell you a story about one little flag. As a fighter pilot on my 93rd mission over North Vietnam, my F-105 was hit by an air-to-air missile and my Electronic Warfare Officer Harold Johnson and I, were forced to eject. After unsuccessful rescue attempts, we were captured by enemy forces and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” for the next six years.
One day in our sixth year of imprisonment, a young Navy pilot named Mike Christian found a piece of cloth in a gutter. After we collected some other small rags, he worked secretly at night to piece them together into a flag. He made red from ground-up roof tiles and blue from tiny amounts of ink, then used rice glue to paste the colors onto the rags. Using thread from his blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed the pieces together, adding white fragments for stars.
One morning he whispered from the back of our cell, “Hey gang, look here,” and proudly held up that tattered American flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We all snapped to attention and saluted — with tears in our eyes.
A week later, the guards were searching our cells and found Mike’s flag and tore to pieces. That night they pulled him out of the cell and, for his simple gesture of patriotism, they tortured him. At daylight they pushed what was left of Mike back through the cell door.
Despite the torture, the next day Mike gathered the shredded remains of that little flag and pieced it back together.
Today, whenever I see our flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first waved that tattered emblem of our great nation. It was then, thousands of miles from home, imprisoned by a brutal enemy, that he courageously demonstrated the liberty it represents, and that is what I see in every American flag.
(I encourage you to obtain copies of “I’m Your Flag” for elementary school children in your family or community. As Lio noted, “It is a fitting tribute to our national banner, and a great resource for young Americans.”)
Finally, as I contemplate the current state of national patriotism on this Memorial Day, I would offer this advice to those who genuinely want to demonstrate their gratitude to all those who gave the last full measure and paid the highest price for the Liberty we enjoy, and to likewise thank active duty and veteran military service personnel for our freedom, which they have and continue to defend at great cost: Strive to be, first and foremost, American citizens worthy of their sacrifice.
In honor of American Patriots who have died in defense of our great nation, lower your flag to half-staff from sunrise to 1200 on Monday. (Read about proper flag etiquette and protocol.) Join us by observing a time of silence at 1500 (your local time), for remembrance and prayer. Offer a personal word of gratitude and comfort to any surviving family members you know who are grieving for a beloved warrior fallen in battle.
On Monday, if you have the day off from work, enjoy it. Hug your family tight. But take time to remember, and to help others remember, that this is a day of reverence to honor fallen Patriots and their families.
On this Memorial Day, and every day of the year, may God bless our men and women in uniform, who have stood and continue to stand in harm’s way – more than 41 million veterans who have served our nation since the American Revolution. For their steadfast devotion to duty, honor and country, we, the American people, offer them and their families our humble gratitude and heartfelt thanks. It is with eternal gratitude that we remember those who have paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.
We pray for our Patriot Armed Forces now standing in harm’s way around the world in defense of our liberty, and for the families awaiting their safe return.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” —John 15:12-14
For additional inspiration, visit the following links:
John Williams “Hymn to the Fallen”
Listen to Taps at Arlington
Listen to Taps in Echo
Memorial Day Bagpipes “Amazing Grace”
Wintley Phipps “Amazing Grace”
Broken Vessels “Amazing Grace”
Vince Gill “Go Rest High”
Charlie Daniels “Star Spangled Banner”
Charlie Daniels “My Beautiful America”
Finally, I encourage you to support the Medal of Honor Heritage Center, now in the process of establishing a permanent visitor center honoring the first recipients of the Medal of Honor, and all who have received it since. For more information on the Center, please contact the Patriot Foundation Trust Administrator or make a donation. Please make checks payable to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 507, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0507 and note MoHHC on the memo line.