There is no single word that better describes the meaning of Memorial Day than sacrifice.
The willingness of the men and women of the nation’s military to sacrifice their lives in order to protect a way of life in which they believe is a testimony to virtue, nobility and strength of character that is deserving of the nation’s thanks and admiration every day, not just on the one holiday set aside to recognize those who gave their lives on behalf of their country.
For many, Memorial Day is little more than the unofficial kickoff of the summer season, a day off work to enjoy firing up the grill, visiting the lake, enjoying a family trip or just relaxing at home.
Few will pause to consider why this particular day is set aside as a national holiday, and why it matters. Which is unfortunate.
In November of each year, we pause to recognize all of the nation’s veterans, those who have served in the country’s military in the past and those who continue to do so. But the intent of the holiday that dawns tomorrow is different, and worthy of a level of reverence and introspection unlike any other national holiday.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom, for a belief in the principles of a nation which they were willing to sacrifice themselves to uphold and protect.
The Times editorial board
- Norman Baggs, general manager
- Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- Cheryl Brown
- David George
- Mandy Harris
- Brent Hoffman
- J.C. Smith
- Tom Vivelo
The numbers of those who have done so are staggering, even moreso when viewed from the perspective of today’s modern technological warfare in which massive numbers of boots on the grounds have been replaced by advanced high-tech weaponry of amazing precision.
According to numbers from the Veterans Administration, the number of U.S. service personnel killed in battle in World War I was more than 53,000; another 63,000 died while in service during the war but not as battle deaths. Those numbers pale in comparison to World War II, where there were more than 290,000 U.S. battle deaths and another 113,000 military deaths during the war years.
In the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, we have become accustomed to grieving a few military deaths at a time, and may go extended periods without a soldier’s life being lost. That more than half a million military personnel lost their lives in service during those two wars in the early decades of the last century is hard for us to grasp.
Soldiers giving their lives for the nation has been a part of the country’s fabric since the beginning, when some 4,400 Americans gave their lives in the Revolutionary war in order to secure the freedoms sought in succession from Great Britain.
Another form of succession led to the Civil War, which saw some 215,000 soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies die in battle, and nearly 300,000 more die while in service during the war.
From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg, Europe to Korea, Vietnam to the Middle East, the one common factor for the U.S. military has been a willingness by those who serve to sacrifice their lives for the benefit of others.
There is no more visual reminder of their sacrifices than the rows of headstones to be found at any military cemetery, many of which will be dotted with American flags this holiday weekend, and perhaps no single image more fitting than the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where the sarcophagus above the grave of a soldier from World War I is engraved to say: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
To that soldier, and all of those who gave their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms and liberties that allow us to enjoy ourselves as we usher in the summer season this holiday weekend, we owe a debt that can never be repaid, but should never be forgotten.