by Paul Engel
- Memorial Day started as Decoration Day when cities and towns began decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers each spring.
- Many Americans will enjoy parades and cookouts, but is that all this day has become?
- How will you honor those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country?
Memorial day is the day the American people set aside to honor those who gave their lives fighting for us. Whether you plan to go to a parade, place flowers on a grave, or simply enjoy a cookout, every American should take some time to honor the fallen and that for which they died.
Memorial Day started as Decoration Day after the Civil War. National cemeteries were created to inter those who had died in the war, and by the late 1860s, cities and towns began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in the spring. Although originally intended to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil war, over time and with the desire to commemorate the lives of those who fell in other wars, the day was used to honor all Americans who died in combat, and became know as Memorial Day.
As a child, Memorial Day was more about the Indianapolis 500, which runs the Sunday before it, than about fallen soldiers. As I grew up though, I began to understand what this day was created for and the importance of remembering those who “gave the last measure of devotion” to their nation. Our history is replete with those who argued against different wars and military engagements. Growing up in the 1970s, I remember the slanderous claims made against those who served in Vietnam. I did not serve in the military, but I watched as friends went to Kuwait, I mourned with those who lost loved ones in the Khobar Tower, and I thank those I see who are willing to serve a sometimes ungrateful nation. Whether they served voluntarily or were drafted, anyone who put on a military uniform and fought for our freedom should be honored. After studying the Constitution, our rights, and our liberties these past years, I think we should do more than just honor those who died, we should also honor what they died for.
“I, ________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The very first duty of anyone in the military is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Unlike other nations, our military does not fight for king and country, but for the Constitution. Those who have fought and died for this nation were defending the Constitution, and by extension our right to live free. You may question whether or not a particular war was fought to defend the Constitution, but those who did the fighting, who followed the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over them, fought to defend your right to question the wisdom of the fight.
How can the American people honor their sacrifice? Yes, we can parade, decorate graves, and thank those who serve or have served. But how do we honor what they sacrificed for? How do we honor the Constitution they fought for?
Honoring What They Sacrificed For
While we say those who have fought and died did so for the Constitution, they did not fight for ink on parchment. They fought for the ideas the Constitution embodies. That people create governments to protect their rights. That the only legitimate powers those governments have are the ones delegated by the people. That now 50 free and independent states could work together under a limited central government. Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, those in our military have fought for our rights to exercise our religion, speak and publish freely, and to not be deprived of our lives, liberty, or property without a process to protect our rights. Those men and women did not die for a flag, a President, or a document in Washington. They died to protect our rights, our liberty, and our very way of life. How do we honor such a sacrifice? By standing with them and protecting the very same things they died for.
Many have been sounding the warning of our rights being under attack. The COVID scare did not initiate the destruction of our rights, it accelerated it. Yet it seems today, even in the face of the extinguishing of the sacred fire of liberty, many Americans are willing to stand by and let it happen. Sadly, there appears to be a significant percentage who are also willing to suppress the rights of others and too few willing to defend them.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
What will you pledge in support of liberty and independence? The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives. Some of them, like the men a women we honor today, fulfilled that pledge, but you do not need to die to pledge your life to the cause of liberty. Will you pledge to spend time and effort to protect the rights of others? You do not need to lose all that you have, as some of those Founding Fathers did, in order to pledge your fortune. Will you pledge to financially support not only groups, but individuals who are standing up for their rights? It’s not enough to send a check and sit back thinking you have done your duty. Will you support business owners, churches, and your neighbors who are defying attempts to steal not only their livelihoods, but their freedoms as well? Will you help pay the fines or legal costs of those defending liberty? Will you pledge, on your honor, to stand against tyrants, both foreign and domestic? Do not make these pledges to me and neither to your nation. Pledge your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor to the others who are willing to stand, and to the generations to come who will live only with the freedoms we have protected for them. Because if we won’t stand our ground, then we will not be the only ones to pay the price, it will also be our children.
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his company were dispatched to save the title character, the last remaining son in his family. Men he did not know risked their lives to save Private Ryan. He did not ask them to, but they did. In the final battle scene, after most of the company was dead, Captain Miller lay mortally wounded. His last words were, “Earn this.” If we want to honor those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, then we should do what Captain Miller told Private Ryan to do: Earn the sacrifice that was paid for us. Stand up and defend our rights and liberties for ourselves. And most importantly, defend the rights and liberties of others.
The scene morphs into an older James Ryan, standing before the grave of the man who paid so high price for his life. Wondering if he’d fulfilled the captain’s charge, if he’d earned the sacrifices that were made for him, James Ryan looks to his wife for validation, for proof that he was a good man, and that he’d earned the life that was purchased for so high a price. Today, I stand before the fallen, asking if I have done a good work. Have I earned the rights and liberties they fought and died for? Have I carried on their work to protect the rights of others? Have I earned the great opportunity that I was given? Although my life is not at risk, am I fighting for the liberty of others? Please, find the movie clip online and watch it. Then ask yourself, have you earned this?