Why We Pause Today to Remember

Elder Patriot – Sadly, many Americans don’t have a clue why we observe Memorial Day.  Nor do they care.  As a nation we are poorer and weaker for this.

A nation whose people recognize actors and sports stars as its heroes is a nation that has misplaced its priorities and sense of values.

Today we pause to remember those young men and women whose purity of commitment to the rest of us was so deeply embedded in them that they willingly made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their countrymen’s liberty.

Feel free if you must, to question the political motivations of the elected leaders who chose the distant lands our bravest youngsters died on.  That is your right, a right guaranteed by our brave warriors.  But doubting the bravery, honor, and integrity of those who serve at the behest of those leaders is destructive to the very core of our society and it serves no purpose except to diminish their heroism and to divide our country.  Remember, they serve loyally at the call of our elected majority.

“Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do or die.”

From our nation’s founding, commitment to liberty above all else and at any cost has been our guide. 

I am now Imbarkd on a tempestuous Ocean from whence, perhaps, no friendly harbour is to be found. – George Washington to Burwell Bassett, June 19th, 1775

Washington’s undermanned and underequipped organization of local militias – exclusively bearing their own firearms – won our freedom fueled not by military superiority but rather by the newly minted American fighting spirit.  That spirit would serve our nation well in the centuries that followed but it did not come without great sacrifice.

Revolutionary War Cemetery.

The colonial states are littered with burial sites like the one above.  These sites are seldom visited and poorly tended to.  The men buried here fought for an ideal that existed nowhere else on earth – the freedom of the individual.  They deserve our reverence, not our ignorance.

Freedom was never far from the American consciousness and eight decades after our nation was founded, the Great Civil War erupted between Americans who believed that the freedoms guaranteed in the founding documents applied to all of America’s peoples, regardless of the color of their skin.

That war for freedom cost more American lives than all of our country’s other wars combined.  Those men gave their lives to secure the freedom of people they never met nor who looked anything like them.

When Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg in 1863, following that epic Civil War battle, he reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Lincoln was not guilty of hyperbole.  The loss of life had been staggering:

Nearly one-third of the total forces engaged at Gettysburg became casualties. George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac lost 28 percent of the men involved; Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia lost over 37 percent.

Of these casualties, 7,058 were fatalities (3,155 Union, 3,903 Confederate). Another 33,264 had been wounded (14,529 Union, 18,735 Confederate) and 10,790 were missing (5,365 Union, 5,425 Confederate).

This sacrifice was repeated multiple times at little remembered places named Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and Antietam to name but a few other hallowed Civil War battle sites.

There is one deniable truth that emerges from the sacrifices made on these sacred battlefields.  The men who gave their lives during these battles never got to know those whose freedoms they had fought and died for.  That is the very definition of selflessness in defense of freedom.

Again, eight decades later American warriors were called upon to defend freedom.  This time in Europe and the South Pacific where imperialistic powers were conducting war on their neighbors and threatening the freedoms of the entire world.

Again, politics aside, American bravery, commitment, and dedication turned the tide.  We still commemorate the incredible sacrifices made on the beaches of Normandy that late-spring day in 1944 where Americans fought hammer and tongs to gain a foothold on the European continent.

This heroism was not isolated to France’s beaches but was repeated in the South Seas at places like Guadalcanal, Midway, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Luzon, and the battle of the Coral Sea and all across Europe in small towns and major cities, in forests and on farm lands.  Monte Cassino, Bastogne, Carentan, and Crucifix Hill were among too many others where our boys made the ultimate sacrifice.

The pictures above capture the carnage and determination of our men during the landings on the beaches of Normandy, France.  The seas ran red with the blood on Americans.  Sadly, this scene played out – this enormous cost of freedom – in many dozens of almost forgotten patches of land.

Ronald Reagan spoke at the ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, D-Day on June 6, 1984 at Pointe du Hoc.  I will not try to match his eloquence in describing the events of that day:

“We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied peoples joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps — millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

“We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs; they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.”

These many years later the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is all that marks their heroism and sacrifice.  It stands on a quiet wind-swept cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the site of one of the great battles of history.  9,387 men are buried there.  They never returned home.  The memorial is the best we can do to commemorate their sacrifice.

But, really, none of it matters if we don’t take a moment to reflect and thank God for their sacrifice.

Today, President Trump has asked us to “pause in solemn gratitude to pay tribute to the brave patriots who laid down their lives defending peace and freedom while in military service to our great Nation. We set aside this day to honor their sacrifice and to remind all Americans of the tremendous price of our precious liberty.”

“The fallen — our treasured loved ones, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens — deserve nothing less from a grateful Nation.”