They fell, but o'er their glorious grave, Floats free the banner of the cause they died to save.
~Francis Marion Crawford
For most, Memorial Day Weekend is an indication of the beginning of summer. Pool parties, barbeques, and family gatherings take up almost every second of the weekend. The days leading up to the first three day weekend of the summer are filled with party preparations, cooking, and shopping. Just the other day, I spend several minutes pondering exactly how I was going to dye a dozen cupcakes red white and blue for the occasion. In the chaos of planning, it’s easy to let the reason for the weekend to slip from our minds. Memorial Day, originally known as “Decoration Day,” was first celebrated shortly after the Civil War at separate times in the recently untied North and South. The holiday started out not only as one of remembrance, but also of reconciliation. Common respect for their fallen heroes tied the North and South together with a sense of national solidarity. The holiday grew in popularity over the years, finally being officially labeled “Memorial Day” in 1967. Since that time, it has served as a day to honor our fallen heroes who have died in the service of our country protecting the freedom we hold so dear. They died so that we might live.
President James Garfield, who also died in the service of his country, stated of our fallen soldiers, “For the love of country, they accepted death.” From the desolated grounds of foreign battlefields to the dangerous forefront of our own borders, American soldiers have been laying down their lives for decades. In the name and love of the United States of America, they gave up their futures so that we might have the opportunity to fulfill ours. Now it is our duty to uphold their memories and not forget their sacrifices. We must be the voice of those whose voices have long been silenced. These men and women are soldiers, patriots, and Americans through and through. Their ranks not only include marines, air force pilots, and national guardsmen, but police officers and firefighters as well. Anyone who has devoted and willingly lost their lives for the American Ideal deserves to be honored this Memorial Day, even those whom no one remembers. There are fallen heroes of our past who do not have gravestones to seal their names in history, or families to place flowers at their memorial. Their names have been lost through the ages, but their sacrifices will not be forgotten. Daniel Webster once said, “Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.” These are men and women for whom no one mourns in name, so we must all grieve for in spirit. Whenever someone gives up their life in the service of our country, they take a piece of all of us with them. This coming Monday, we should mourn the loss of each of our national heroes, whether we know their names or not.
Although Memorial Day is a time of sadness, it is also an occasion for celebration; a celebration of the lives and sacrifices of our fallen heroes. They died for something greater than any individual: the American Ideal of independence, perseverance, hard work, innovation, and the like. We can repay the debt we owe to those who are long gone by living out the ideals for which they died. We must learn to pick ourselves up when we have fallen and push through tough times even when the days ahead grow darker and darker. We can’t expect the government or anyone else to solve every problem for us. We must come up with our own solutions. It’s also important to make sure the American Ideal is not lost and the American Character does not fade from our lives. To forsake these principles is to taint the memories of those who died to protect them. We must fight every day to uphold our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and to secure freedom for ourselves and our children. Although most of us will not have the opportunity to fight on the physical battlefield, we can all take part in the battlefield of ideas and preserve American principles for years to come. In that way, we can do our small part to keep the privileges granted to us by the fallen. Aaron Kilbourne put it best when he said, “a dead soldier’s silence sings our national anthem.” Without the sacrifices of our fallen heroes, America could not exist, and for this, we honor them not only on Memorial Day, but all year round.
So this weekend, between hot dogs and fireworks, take a second to remember the lives of those for whom the weekend is devoted. Without them, we might not have the freedom and security to pursue such times of happiness. Say a prayer for our soldiers overseas and shake the hand of those who have returned. Remember and honor those who have not. Weep for those who did not come home and laugh with those who did. Don’t forget to send up a prayer for the mothers, fathers, children, siblings, and relatives of those who gave their lives in the service of this country. Most importantly, don’t let the country our heroes died for fall into ruin. Preserve the ideals of this “last, best hope of Earth” and fight to live them out every day. Become true Americans. Be a man or woman of which our fallen heroes could be proud.