The Memorial Day weekend is upon us, a three-day weekend that for most Americans marks the start of the summer season. Many will celebrate appropriately with barbecues and outdoor activities with family and friends.
However, amidst our festivities, we should not forget that Memorial Day is America’s most solemn national holiday, marking our nation’s tribute to those who made the Supreme Sacrifice for our country.
Memorial Day initially was observed on May 30 and was known as Decoration Day, in an era before the turn of the 20th century, when the Northern states paid tribute to the Union soldiers — who gave their lives to preserve America as we know it — by decorating their graves that were a part of the landscape of every Northern community whose sons died to preserve the Union and free the slaves.
That tradition continues to this day, with the graves of those who gave their lives for their country being decorated with American flags and flowers around the country, whether by veterans organizations or family members.
The new century soon brought with it wars, seemingly every generation, that would give new meaning to the words Supreme Sacrifice. Starting with the Spanish-American War in 1898, American blood was shed on foreign soil in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and then Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention in other far-off places around the world that are known only to our government.
Although history has been less than kind in judging the wisdom of our policy-makers who involved us in many of these conflicts, what is beyond dispute is that in every war to which we have sent our young men and women, they have performed with courage and patriotism in the belief that they were serving the best interests of our nation.
For those of us who have been spared the horrors of war, it is difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf by those who served — and died — while wearing the uniform.
It is these brave Americans, who gave “the last full measure,” whom we honor on Memorial Day. Without their heroic efforts, we would not be writing this editorial — nor would you be reading it.
So as we enjoy the long holiday weekend with friends and family, let each of us resolve to take a moment — if not longer — to thank those who gave their lives in order that we might be able to enjoy the freedoms that make America the greatest nation on earth.
Abraham Lincoln’s words in his Gettysburg address ring as true today as they in 1864:
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 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.