This weekend, Americans will gather with friends and family for pool parties and barbecues. Hot dogs and hamburgers will fly off the shelves, while furniture stores and car dealers will run sales. Memorial Day is a great American tradition. It’s also a time to reflect on what the holiday means.
It’s in memory of the patriots who pledged their lives and sacred honor in the fight for American independence. Motivated by their belief in a God-given right to individual liberty and self-governance, they grabbed their hunting muskets and defeated the most powerful military force of their time. They paid for our liberty with their blood: 6,800 dead on the battlefield and at least another 17,000 killed by infection, illness, and disease. But because of their vision and fortitude, generations have grown up knowing nothing but freedom, and America has become the greatest, most influential country the world has ever seen.
It’s about the thousands of men and boys who, less than 80 years later, took up arms once again to more fully realize the Founders’ bold statement that all men are created equal. The cost was enormous. The Civil War’s devastation was so widespread and so many families lost a loved one that Memorial Day was born from a sense of duty to the fallen. But as Lincoln noted, they didn’t die in vain. Their sacrifices ended slavery and preserved the union.
It’s for soldiers like First Lieutenant Walker Beale, who was killed in action on Sept. 18, 1918 at 22 years old. Beale was one of the millions of young American men who fought in World War I and more than 100,000 who died fighting to keep totalitarianism at bay. Originally from Maine, he is buried an ocean away in a French cemetery alongside his fallen brothers. In his memory, his mother commissioned a memorial inscribed with a simple, powerful epitaph: “He sleeps, far from his family, in the sweet soil of France.” But a headstone isn’t his only legacy. Beale’s death puts him in the canon of heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.
It’s in honor of the lives we continue to lose, including the 11 Marines, one Navy sailor, and one Army soldier who returned home in flag-draped coffins from Afghanistan last August. Despite the horrifying scene that unfolded in Kabul, our servicemembers served faithfully, demonstrating the selflessness, bravery, and patriotism that characterizes our military. For their families, this year’s Memorial Day will be deeply personal. For the rest of us, it’s a reminder of the risk that members of our military assume every time they put on the uniform.
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But as sobering as Memorial Day is, it’s also beautiful. This holiday spotlights true acts of courage when it mattered most. It urges us to consider the things worth dying for. It honors the patriots past and present who gave their lives in service of a greater, lasting cause. It’s as much about remembering our war dead as it is a lesson to the living about the high cost of freedom.
So with the long weekend, enjoy the family time and ring in the start of summer. But also consider the sacrifice required to guarantee the freedom, security, prosperity, and peace that makes it possible.