We honor Monday those who have donned the uniform of our country and died in its defense.
Not all veterans nor all who died. “All gave some; some gave all.” The rest of us who donned the uniform of our nation have our day in November.
We should pause to remember those who “gave the last full measure of devotion,” as Abraham Lincoln suggested in his address dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg. “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Traditionally, Memorial Day was invented by the African American population of Charleston, South Carolina, commemorating the Union soldiers who had died while prisoners of war in their city, in order to bring them personal freedom to match the national independence we celebrate on July 4th. The practice spread quickly through both the south and north. Decoration Day, as it was called for many years, was celebrated on May 30th, chosen supposedly because no particular battle of the Civil War was fought on that day.
Sadly, for many Americans this supposed day of humility and reverence has become, like so many other institutions of our republic, no more than an excuse for a three day party. Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a Medal of Honor World War II veteran, campaigned from 1987 until his death in 2012 to return Memorial Day to its traditional date.
Pause with me, then, to remember and be thankful (in Lincoln’s words) for those who “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.”