"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation
is not to utter the words, but to live them out."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Memorial Day is special to me, as it should hold a special place in all of our hearts. I've lost family and friends to both war and training accidents in military service. Their memory hasn't faded from my mind, and their sacrifice screams out to me every time I see the flag of our nation. We often mistake this day as just another patriotic holiday that relieves us from the obligations of our employment, without fully examining those it is meant to honor. I think we should honor our veterans everyday, but Memorial Day is not set aside to show respect to those who currently serve; instead, it was established to honor those who, through their selfless dedication to our nation, paid the ultimate price. Those honored on Memorial Day are no longer here with us to accept the gratitude of a thankful country; instead, they lie entombed, having given far more than their best for the United States of America.
The Civil War ended in 1865, and before the turn of the decade, Americans in various towns around our nation began to meet together and decorate the graves and pay honor to the nations fallen heroes. Originally called "Decoration Day," Memorial Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
I thank God for the American solider, and it is with a humble heart that I remember those who have died on my behalf, and for my safety and freedom, while proudly wearing the uniform of our nation. I fear that the sacrifices of our fallen heroes have been somewhat forgotten over time, as we live in a nation today that shows a great distraction from the hard lessons of history. This is painfully evident to me as I sadly observe how politics and politicians recklessly abuse the spirit and message of our founding documents and, with profane arrogance, seek to undermine the freedoms that heroic men and women have labored and died to preserve. It's a different country – a divided county. If we're not careful, our division will catch up with us. There's a possibility it already has.
Arlington National Cemetery currently has over 400,000 graves. Not all of those present were soldiers, and not all died in combat, but the many gravestones present should still stand out to us as a stark reminder of the sacrifices that have been made for the preservation of our national freedom.
Let us also remember that each grave represents much more than a fallen solider. These gravestones represent an individual who took upon themselves the defense of nation full of people they did not know or necessarily agree with. They represent months and even years of hard training, learning the art of war. Each gravestone represents a great degree of courage, and, most assuredly, a great degree of palpable apprehension and fear that may have never been conquered as they fought America's battles on foreign soil. These gravestones also represent their families. Too often we fail to understand that each solider is a son, daughter, mother, or father. These gravestones represent the shared grief that can only be understood by families who, as Abraham Lincoln said, "have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom" (From a November 12, 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, mother who lost five sons during the Civil War).
The entire letter reads:
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
In the current and costly political divisiveness so prevalent in America, let us choose to take a moment and stand together in unity to honor the sacrifice of heroes. Let us acknowledge that they were only normal people who became extraordinary, because they did not run from evil when freedom was challenged. Instead, they answered the call, trained for the cause, and overcame their fear. They stood up and took action, leaving their homes and families, drawing a line in the sand between freedom and tyranny, and, in that pursuit, they gave their life. We are indebted to those who have fallen, and let us not forsake the beauty of their memory or diminish the weight of their sacrifice.
To the fallen America Solider, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine, from the hearts of a grateful nation, and from the heart of a very proud and humbled American citizen...thank you.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!