Throughout the year, there are plenty of holidays you might like to celebrate more than once. Kids would probably like a couple extra days of Christmas presents and Halloween candy…two Valentine’s Days for your wife…and I would give plenty of thanks for an extra day of pie, turkey, stuffing and…well, more pie. But more than any of those, the one day I say deserves as much repeating, reverence and recognition as it can get is today—Memorial Day.
Unlike most holidays, the sentiment behind Memorial Day isn’t abstract—it’s as concrete and immediate as today’s headlines. Officially speaking, Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. Now, you don’t need a history lesson to understand the sacrifice made by those who wear an American flag on their arm and put themselves in harm’s way—just watch tonight’s news.
We didn’t start celebrating Memorial Day until after the Civil War, but it was during that conflict, November of 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address and eloquently laid out the simple yet profound idea that lies at the heart of this day:
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.
“The last full measure of devotion”—a beautiful phrase describing a tragic consequence. And while the fight has moved from within our own country to conflicts overseas, the giving of your life in service to your country remains a uniquely sacred act. American soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sad reality is those are not the last two wars that will ever need fighting. On this Memorial Day and all the days before and after it, we must remember those in our military who bravely served and never made it home.
Just as we aren’t just Christians on Christmas or patriots on the 4th of July, we owe more to the fallen than just remembering them on Memorial Day. Let today mark the beginning of your year-round remembrance, and never forget that the price of living free to celebrate this day with your family was paid by those who wore a uniform, carried a gun, and gave “the last full measure of their devotion.”
God bless you, your family, and the United States of America.