Although the Memorial Day weekend signifies the start of the summer season and is observed by families and friends who gather for barbecues and similar festivities, we should keep in mind that Memorial Day is our most solemn national holiday in which we remember those who gave their lives in defense of our country.
Their sacrifice in the many wars our nation has fought since our country’s founding should serve as a reminder that freedom isn’t free.
Although today we technically are at peace, the world feels anything but peaceful. Totalitarian adversaries either are wreaking havoc (Russia in Ukraine) or threatening to do so (No. Korea and China).
If the lessons of the past and present teach us anything, it is that we cannot take our freedom for granted. The same troops who at the present time are providing humanitarian and military aid in far-off places around the globe could be called upon to engage in a far different and far more dangerous mission at a moment’s notice.
We should keep in mind too, that the willingness of our military personnel to serve in defense of our country not only places them in harm’s way, but also imposes great sacrifices upon their families.
This realization made us think back to the roots of Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day in the aftermath of the Civil War, with the proclamation by Gen. Logan on May 5, 1868, in which he declared:
“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 during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with 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 the aftermath of World War I, the term Supreme Sacrifice came into the national lexicon to describe those who gave their lives in that terrible conflict and has been associated with our wars for the past century.
However, prior to that time, President Abraham Lincoln coined a different phrase — the “last full measure” — in his speech at Gettysburg to honor the Union soldiers who fought and died to preserve the nation in that epic battle that turned back the Confederate Army.
Lincoln’s brief oration rates as the greatest-ever testament to those who have given their lives in defense of their country. We never tire of reading his plain yet profound words, and as the years pass, they seem to take on new meaning. Similar to the state of the nation when Lincoln delivered his speech on November 19, 1863, at the official dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we are divided along lines that seem irreconcilable. Not only are we facing challenges to our democratic ideals abroad, but here at home as well.
We are printing the full text of the Gettysburg address in the hope that our readers draw as much inspiration from it as we do:
“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 battle-field 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot 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.”
We hope our readers appreciate the eternal truths of Lincoln’s sentiments, which are as relevant today as they have been since the founding of our nation.
We wish all of our readers a happy Memorial Day weekend.