- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

Today we observe a solemn celebration of freedom. Memorial Day is an occasion of remembrance and a rededication — a commemoration of those who have fallen and a celebration of those who serve. We come to this Memorial Day under the sunshine of liberty, with the sparkling fountains and golden stars of the newly opened World War II Memorial. Yet we are still under the shadow of long twilight struggle of the war on terror, with all its costs and casualties.

The ideals of freedom have changed little since America’s first revolution. The dedication and the sacrifice of its defenders is no less great in Baghdad and Kabul than it was in Lexington and Concord. And as it was more than 200 years ago, there still is no truly fitting way to honor our first citizens — our soldiers and our veterans. Neither words nor deeds can fully pay tribute to those among us who gave, and who are still giving, so much for the cause of liberty; those who have guarded us with their valor and still protect us with their vigilance.

Memorial Day should open with the same simple memorials that have served since the beginning of the republic.

• With the red, white and blue. Memorial Day is a day for Americans to proudly wear their patriotism on their sleeves and shirts and hats and skirts. Veterans should see the flag that they fought under, the colors that still call them to duty, flourished everywhere. The display shouldn’t be limited to a patriotic outfit either. Put the flag on the car antenna or the bumper. Hang it from the window or on the porch.

• With a cheer. U.S. troops should be applauded loudly, whether it is at a worship service in which they are marked or a parade in which they are marching. Soldiers should be showered with audible accolades wherever they are recognized.

m With a moment to remember. The White House Commission on Remembrance has requested that Americans take a minute today at 3 p.m. EST to remember the reason for the celebration. The pause might be observed by spending a moment of silence, by playing or listening to “Taps,” or by turning on a driven vehicle’s headlights. (More details can be found at www.remember.gov.)

m With a heartfelt thank you. This weekend, Washington has been blessed with an abundance of visiting World War II veterans, who should be thanked with a pat on the back, a handshake or even a round of adult beverages. Do the same for those veterans of Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their captors gave them neither mercy nor hope, but former prisoners of war still served for years with unsullied honor. Other families still hope against hope for news of their loved ones missing in action. Former POWs and families of MIAs should be embraced today. Do not forget those heading back into battle or the homeland security officers on duty now.

m With a gift. Soldiers may love mail from loved ones, but they don’t mind care from strangers. Operation Air Conditioner continues to provide cooling units to soldiers stationed in Iraq. Visit www.operationac.com or send a donation to Operation Air Conditioner, 560 Peoples Plaza, Box 121, Newark, Del., 19702. Operation Uplink, run through the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation, provides prepaid calling cards to servicemen and servicewomen stationed abroad. Donations can be sent to Operation Uplink, VFW Foundation, 406 W. 34th St., Kansas City, Mo., 64111.

It is not sufficient simply to honor the living on Memorial Day. While the sun shines, the dead should be remembered at their final resting places — who they were, where they fell and why they fought.

There are many places to pay tribute.

• The silent pathways at Arlington Memorial Cemetery and the angle of the Vietnam Memorial; the stars at the World War II Memorial and the Pool of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The thousands of markers of sacrifice across the land, from Pearl Harbor to Ground Zero, from Yorktown, Va., to Shanksville, Pa.

• The usually ignored statues embodying lifetimes of service scattered across Washington. The dedication of perhaps the greatest strategist of the Revolutionary War, Nathanael Greene, who sits astride his horse at Stanton Park between Fourth and Sixth streets NE on Capitol Hill. The determination Gen. George Gordon Meade, standing between Third and Fourth Streets NW. The courage of Commodore John Paul Jones, who stands at Independence Avenue and 17th St. NW.

• The stories of the self-sacrifice of the fallen, which can be found on the Internet with a point and a click. The New York Times still maintains its monument of memory of those who lost their lives on September 11 at www.nytimes.com/pages/national/portraits/index.html. The Defense Department keeps an updated list of those who have fallen in the war on terrorism at www.defendamerica.mil/fallen.html. Each name is a study in sacrifice, each memory a memorial to dedication.

Above all, Memorial Day is a day to renew our dedication to the American ideal. The valor of our veterans would mean far less if their cause were not so great. Before the Taps sounds today, renewed peals of liberty must resound across the land once again.

Memorial Day should close with a pledge, a promise.

• A promise to never forget our founding principles. At the Pentagon’s Web site, each obituary for those killed on September 11 ends with the phrase “We will not forget …” On that day, each American was targeted, each American was touched simply because of the ideals they represent. Dedication to those same principles put Americans in the sights of British Redcoats at Breed’s Hill; in the fire of German fieldgrau at Normandy; in the range of Chinese regulars on the Yalu River. Army Rangers have taken fire from the Taliban for the love of those ideals; Marines have been hit with rockets from Iraqi insurgents. Dedication to those self-evident principles has made America hated by autocrats and Islamo-fascists but loved by the orphans of tyranny.

• A promise to renew our devotion. Memorial Day is a day to commit to taking not just a single minute on one day, but several moments each day to renew our commitment to this republic and the principles on which it was founded. To recite the Pledge of Allegiance, hand pressed firmly over heart. To bow a head or doff a cap when passing by the weather-etched markers and newly dug graves at Arlington. To remain still for a few seconds after the last note of the national anthem, taking the brief space before the game starts to remember those who are in danger while others are at play.

It is a new time of constant danger and continuous combat, of sudden terror and terrible weapons, but the old ideals still ring true. They are still upheld by the craftsmanship of instinctive moments of gratitude and brief displays of devotion; of small remembrances and simple demonstrations of patriotism.

Memorial Day begins each day that Americans honor their soldiers, remember their heroes and pledge allegiance to their ideals.

Memorial Day begins today.

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