I heard this talk at a Scout Breakfast on Memorial Day weekend two years ago. It was so moving that I asked him to please let me share it on my blog. Below is what he emailed to me. I hope it moves you as much as it has me.
I used PART 1 as an introduction, and is an excerpt from the 2008 Memorial Day message from the VFW website:
It’s a sacred day to all war veterans: None need to be reminded of the reason that Memorial Day must be commemorated. But what about the general public, and more important, future generations? Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of the day honoring their fellow Americans killed in war?
Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America’s collective consciousness demands that all citizens recall and be aware of the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime.
Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That’s why they are all collectively remembered on one special day.
This should be regarded as a civic obligation. For this is a national debt that can only be truly repaid by individual Americans. By honoring the nation’s war dead, we preserve their memory and thus their service and sacrifice in the memories of future generations.
They came from all walks of life and regions of the country. But they all had one thing in common—love of and loyalty to country. This bond cemented ties between them in times of trials, allowing a diverse lot of Americans to achieve monumental ends.
We remember the loss of loved ones, a sense of loss that takes group form. In essence, America is commemorating those who made the greatest sacrifice possible—giving one’s own life on behalf of others.
Means of paying tribute vary. Pausing for a few moments of personal silence is available to everyone.
As America’s older war veterans fast disappear from society’s landscape, there are fewer and fewer standard-bearers left to carry the torch of remembrance. Such traditions will live on only if there is a vibrant movement to which that torch can be passed.
Now, more than in recent years, the enduring relevance of Memorial Day should be clearly evident. With two wars under way, the public has no excuse not to remember.
This much is owed to the more than 4,500 Americans who have died thus far in Afghanistan and Iraq.
PART 2 was to give a history of the holiday, and is an excerpt from a Heritage Foundation essay by Carolyn Garris, Memorial Day: Following Logan’s Orders on May 25, 2007:
Americans celebrate Memorial Day with barbeques and bargain sales. Yet often our beach umbrellas overshadow what the holiday means. By looking back at why it was created, we can gain a better appreciation of how — and why — we should observe it today.
Memorial Day arose in the aftermath of the Civil War. At that time, each town honored its fallen soldiers separately. Then, in 1868, retired Union General John Logan organized the first national Decoration Day. Serving as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Veterans, Logan ordered local posts to honor the fallen on May 30, 1868 by “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades, who died in defense of their country.”
One month later, Congress established a national Memorial Day, although Americans did not celebrate it in solidarity until after the First World War.
The holiday has evolved, but it remains true to its roots. “It is the purpose of the commander-in-chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year,” Logan wrote in his order for Decoration Day. These days, the president executes the national observance and gives the Memorial Day Address at Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1950, Congress recognized Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace. In 2000, the president issued a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time each Memorial Day. Since Logan, the president has guided our national observance with moments of silence, prayer, and the playing of Taps.
Originally, Logan wrote his orders for veterans. He urged them to remember the fallen, as long as “a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades.” A few years ago President Bush acknowledged, “I know that those who have seen war are rarely eager to look back on it and the hardest memories of all concern those who serve their country and never live to be called veterans. Yet memory is our responsibility.” Although generations separate us from Logan’s words, many veterans of foreign wars still live among us. Sharing the stories of the lost lives is a tangible way to honor their memory.
But today, Logan’s orders speak broadly to all Americans. He could not have foreseen the destructiveness of 20th century warfare. Yet his guidance offers three practical ways for citizens to observe Memorial Day.
- Remember the fallen. For Logan, this meant decorating their graves with the “choicest flowers of spring-time.” Ceremonies at local cemeteries remind Americans that though war seems thousands of miles away, our neighbors, classmates and brothers are involved. America has very few national heroes. Instead, our heroes are 18-year-olds who commit their lives to service of their country. As Logan suggested, a proper celebration of Memorial Day honors these individuals.
- Remember their cause. Logan requested that an American flag, which “they saved from dishonor,” be raised above the departed. They died for the American flag and the nation that flag represents. They died in pursuit and defense of her principles, “liberty and justice for all.” The proper honoring of these individuals unites Americans to their mission.
- Serve their families. Finally, Logan expected that remembering leads to service. “Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us, a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan,” he wrote. A few years prior, Abraham Lincoln gave a similar charge, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Serving the soldiers’ widows and orphans is a national duty. Today, war separates thousands of military families. A proper Memorial Day celebration includes serving the families who sacrifice daily for our country.
Memorial Day is not just for the government and veterans; it is a day for Americans. This Memorial Day, let us all follow Logan’s orders: Cherish “tenderly the memory of the heroic dead, who made their hearts a barricade between our country and our foes.”
PART 3 was what it means to me and my family personally. I had read (I think in the Army Times, while I was in Iraq), someone use the Oath of Enlistment in a Memorial Day address, which gave me the idea to mention it here.
I, like my grandfathers, father, uncles and cousins before me, am a veteran. I am proud of having served in the Armed Forces. I served in the Army Field Artillery and Cavalry from 2000 to 2006. I mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom from August 2004 to February 2006. I am currently serving in the Inactive guard and reserve of the US Army.
Just a few month after receiving his high school diploma, my father stormed the beach in Okinawa for 82 days and was just one of the 38,000 wounded during that great battle that took the lives of 12,000 of America’s finest. World War II took the lives of 416,800 sailors and soldiers. The Americans going into World War II came from the farms and the cities, left their tractors and time cards, and these civilians became soldiers. Then and now, we are always underestimated by the enemy. They think we are soft and apathetic. They think this because we love liberty, we accept all come to our shores, and we think that freedom leads to happiness and prosperity. Sometimes this makes us too trusting. And, let’s face it– sometimes we are unprepared. But the last 250 years of history is full of grand armies and navies unprepared to face the heart of free men, fighting for their liberty.
My Grandfather served in WWI, his grandfather and uncle in the Mexican-American War. WWI saw over 116,000 U.S. military deaths, the Mexican-American War witnessed more than 13,000. We had grandfathers on both sides of the Civil War, the bloodiest in our history; some experts say the toll reached 700,000; and the first Persingers to set foot on US soil, had to fight for as part of the Virginia Infantry Regiment during the American Revolution. An estimated 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. Some who lived into their seventies saw their first military pension payments.
Memorial Day, for myself, my father, and for all soldiers, living and dead, is embodied in the words of the oath they first take when they enlisted into the service of their country:
I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC; THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; AND THAT I WILL OBEY THE ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE ORDERS OF THE OFFICERS APPOINTED OVER ME, ACCORDING TO REGULATIONS AND THE UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE. SO HELP ME GOD.
Memorial Day, is traditionally May 30; May 26 is this year’s Congressional designation. It is a day of “National Mourning.” All U.S. Flags should be displayed at half-staff during the morning hours. At noon, they should be raised back to full-staff.
Let us now observe the bearing of flag with silent reflection, and let us pay our respects to our honored dead by supporting and defending the Constitution, by never sacrificing freedom for the illusion of peace, or liberty for the promise of leisure; and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.