Memorial Day (as on both Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day) is one that I think about and am grateful for my dad, who served our beloved country more than 30 years – first in the National Guard and then in the US Army Air Defense. This period included military service in WWII, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. Although he’s been gone for years, thankfully he survived them all.
As you know, today (May 31) is a federal holiday in the United States, observed on the last Monday in May. The day commemorates and honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Poppies are the red flowers symbolically worn on Memorial Day to commemorate the sacrifice so many men and women have given in service to their country. https://www.history.com
It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of the American Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the “birthplace” of Memorial Day because a ceremony on May 5, 1866, occurred to honor local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. https://www.pbs.org
Here are some Memorial Day quotes by presidents of the United States:
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president – “You, who made good your valor and patriotism the statesmanship of Lincoln and the soldiership of Grant, have set as the standards for our efforts in the future both the way you did your work in war and the way in which, when the war was over, you turned again to the work of peace. In war and peace alike, your example will stand as the wisest of lessons to us and our children and our children’s children.” (1902, Roosevelt was also addressing aged soldiers who had fought in the Civil War)
Herbert Hoover, 31st – “It was the transcendent fortitude and steadfastness of these men who in adversity and in suffering through the darkest hour of our history held faithful to an ideal. Here men endured that a nation might live.” (1931)
Richard M. Nixon, 37th – “This Memorial Day should remind us of the greatness that past generations of Americans achieved from Valley Forge to Vietnam, and it should inspire us with the determination to keep America great and free by keeping America safe and strong in our own time, a time of unique destiny and opportunity for our Nation. Peace is the real and right memorial for those who have died in war.” (1974)
Ronald Reagan, 40th – “Today, the United States stands as a beacon of liberty and democratic strength before the community of nations. We are resolved to stand firm against those who would destroy the freedoms we cherish. We are determined to achieve an enduring peace—a peace with liberty and with honor. This determination, this resolve, is the highest tribute we can pay to the many who have fallen in the service of our Nation.” (1981) “The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, less heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves. …Our goal is peace. We can gain that peace by strengthening our alliances, by speaking candidly about the dangers before us, by assuring potential adversaries of our seriousness, by actively pursuing every chance of honest and fruitful negotiation.” (1982) “We owe this freedom of choice and action to those men and women in uniform who have served this nation and its interests in time of need. In particular, we are forever indebted to those who have given their lives that we might be free.” (1983)
George H.W. Bush, 41st – “Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.” (1992)
George W. Bush, 43rd – “Their sacrifice was great, but not in vain. All Americans and every free nation on earth can trace their liberty to the white markers of places like Arlington National Cemetery. And may God keep us ever grateful.” (2003)
Barack Obama, 44th – “Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. They, and we, are the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor, who waged war so that we might know peace, who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity, who paid the ultimate price so that we might know freedom.” (2009)
I believe it’s important to honor all individuals who have served with distinction or who have sacrificed his or her life for another’s. Such honoring is certainly genuine appreciation and love. And, we can be grateful to God that such individuals were willing to serve and sacrifice.
I also believe life is eternal, as demonstrated and taught by Christ Jesus, who showed us what true sacrifice and love is. Thus, these lives, though often gone from human sight too soon, are embraced by our heavenly Father-Mother God, Love. So, whether it’s someone who gave his or her life in service, or a friend, colleague or someone we love who has passed, we can honor their lives by holding in our hearts all the fine qualities we hold dear about them. This is loving them, even when we cannot hold them or talk to them. To selflessly love in this way is perhaps the highest memorial we can give unto them.
Remember, Christ Jesus remarked, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NKJV)
D. Brian Boettiger