People these days are awfully spoiled. We think we’re making a big sacrifice if our hotel room doesn’t have free wi-fi. But Memorial Day is about honoring the men and women of the US military who truly made the greatest of all sacrifices to secure our liberty.
Memorial Day was born after the Civil War, when families would take a day to tend and decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. It soon spread to the North, and became known as Decoration Day. Eventually, it became a national holiday to honor all American military veterans who gave up their homes, their families, their very lives -- everything they had, or ever dreamed of having – and sacrificed it all for their country. And just how many have made the ultimate sacrifice? You might be stunned at the answer.
From the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, through the Civil War and Spanish American war, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other wars, police actions and rescue missions since 1776, over one million, three hundred and eight thousand Americans in uniform have laid down their lives for their country.
Imagine if all those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen could come back to life for a parade in their honor. Picture them marching past in rows of ten, each row taking just 10 seconds to pass. That parade of fallen heroes would march on and on, row after row, hour after hour, 24 hours a day, for over 15 straight days!
That is the enormity of the sacrifice that's been made to preserve our freedom and security. And it doesn’t even include the millions more who gave their limbs, their sight, and the best years of their lives, all for us. These heroes laid down their lives for such American ideals as freedom, liberty, equality, democracy, fighting tyranny and defending the helpless; bedrock principles that they passed down to us. It is now our sacred duty to preserve them for future generations.
Every Memorial Day, the VFW sells poppy pins. I hope you’ll buy one and wear it proudly. The poppy became the symbol of Memorial Day thanks to the famous poem, “In Flanders’ Fields,” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. He wrote it in memory of his friend Alexis Helmer, whom he watched die in battle in World War I. The poem goes:
“In Flanders’ fields, the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row…”
Today, as we fly our flags, attend parades, visit veterans’ hospitals and tend the graves of our loved ones, let’s stop to think of all the rows and rows of crosses in veterans’ cemeteries. Let’s be humbled to reflect that each and every cross marks the resting place of a genuine American hero.
McCrae’s poem ends:
“To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch.
Be yours, to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep,
Though poppies grow in Flanders’ fields.”
If you really want to memorialize these greatest of American heroes, then take up the torch they passed to us. Hold it high. And never let it drop!
Here’s wishing you and your family a safe and free Memorial Day.