Memorial Day normally equates to BBQ, sales and pool openings — the beginning of summer. Many people travel to a beach, lake or mountain. Some traditions include visiting a memorial cemetery to honor the fallen. This year, the number of Americans traveling was expected to be far below last year’s record-breaking 43 million, according to the American Automobile Association, even below the 31 million who traveled in 2009, during the Great Recession. Whether we traveled or not, we should honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
It’s the day to remember those who gave their lives to keep our country safe and free, so we can work toward prosperity. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War. The graves of the fallen soldiers were decorated to honor their sacrifice — their lives — to keep our country united. Credit for Memorial Day goes to John Logan, who had served as an Illinois congressman prior to the Civil War, volunteered as a Union soldier and was promoted during the war to general. After the war, in 1868, he issued an order to honor those who had died in the war.
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country,” the order said. “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.” Logan described their deaths as “the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
More than 600,000 American soldiers died during the Civil War, which remains the deadliest war for Americans.
While not all of us are called to serve our country in the armed forces or the political arena, we can all make a difference through the way we live our lives. With freedom comes responsibility — responsibility to ensure that our freedom is maintained. Freedom is never free but comes at a cost of lives, vigilance, time and effort.
The Declaration of Independence provides the foundation for our country: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have life and liberty and must guard them both, but we are provided only with the opportunity to pursue happiness, not a guarantee of happiness itself. Whether you achieve happiness is up to you and is not the responsibility of our government.
President Abraham Lincoln reminded us of our responsibility in November 1863, when he delivered his address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Civil War was still raging. He was not the main speaker for the day but had been invited as an afterthought. His speech was so short (less than two minutes) that the photographer did not have time to get a picture of him delivering it.
Its 278 words don’t include “I” or “me,” but they do take the audience from our start as a nation and the American Revolution to Lincoln’s wishes for the future of our nation: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. … It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve 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.”
This past Memorial Day, the National Moment of Remembrance, hopefully along with millions of others, you remembered the military men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and freedom. After Memorial Day, take an interest and get involved in what it means to be an American. Help others understand the importance being an American and living out the American dream. Educate your children about those Americans who have died so that others could remain free, and reach out to veterans who were able to return home.
Let’s give thanks and increase our devotion to our country so that our military men and women will not have died in vain.