On Memorial Day, what can we say? What can we do?
There are those who went to war, to close-by Cuba, to the blood-drenched beaches of Guam, Corregidor, Midway, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, to the green and crimson fields of France, to the cloying, dripping jungles of Vietnam and the abattoir that was Korea, to the treacherous crags of Afghanistan, and the blistering deserts of Iraq, to the death-shrouded fields of Antietam, Gettysburg, Bentonville, Bull Run, and to places we’ve never even heard of. There to do and die, that we might wake up today and wonder, lost, what we could possibly say or do, that would be worthy of their sacrifice.
They, the Armed Forces of America, who gave the last full measure of devotion, did it best, and this man said it best:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 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 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.(1)
What can we do? Well, during all the barbecues, and back-yard parties and picnics, the parades and the fly-overs, and amidst the fellowship of friends and families, bought for us with such precious capital, at such an awful price, we might take some time to offer a prayer to the Most High that He might bless and protect those who serve today; that He might bestow, strength, courage and wisdom on those who direct our soldiers’ actions; that He might strengthen the resolve of those of our brethren who face ruthless, bloodthirsty adversaries, so that those very foemen might quail before the power and the glory of the greatest nation ever to exist, and thereupon abandon their hopeless task to return to hearth and home.
We might offer such a prayer publicly, out loud, so that this, the greatest nation that has ever existed, might hear our devotion, and therefrom draw increased strength, resolve and purpose.
It’s important that we have that fellowship — that we have those parties and picnics, those outings and gatherings — with friends, neighbors and family; our soldiers bought them for us with their blood, and it would be deeply disrespectful not to have such times.
Also, we might spend some time talking with our children and reminding them that there are billions around the world who do not breathe free(2), who do not have the right to complain about their country. While in America, there is a vast throng of those who do have that right; the right, the ability, the energy and the willingness to snarl about all that is just so wrong with this country, blissfully, safely, unaware of the granite foundation, built upon all that is just so right with this country, on the blood of the fallen, that allows them so to sneer.
We might make that granite foundation well-known to our children and their friends.
And we might watch this tender, touching moment: 11-Year-Old Boy Held Salute For One Hour On This Beach. This is one young boy who understands.
We might also watch this “moment.” Every Year, A Lone Marine Holds Salute For Fallen Soldiers.
There are people who understand what it takes to “secure the blessings of liberty” in America, as no such blessings have ever been secured before, in the history of the world.
It would be good if today we were to remember all that, and if we were also to resolve to spend some time each day in which to remember all that, and if then we were to kiss our children, and our parents, our brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, our nieces and nephews and cousins, and tell them we love them, and smile and laugh with them. That tenderness is precious, and the simple ease with which we can bestow it or withhold it is a gift dearly bought.
Rest in peace, all you brave ones, you courageous, hearty and strong ones, you heroic, gallant and valorous ones, who threw yourselves with reckless abandon at those who threaten to destroy all that freedom-lovers hold near and dear. May the Creator of us all, bless you all and take you gently into His hands into Paradise, cradled in His infinite love forever. And may He bless and sanctify the efforts of us who are left behind, as we try to pay homage to you and to live up to your outstanding example.
(1) – The full text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, possibly the finest speech ever delivered in the English language:
Four score 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.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. 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 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.
(2) – The words on the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”