Today we observe a solemn celebration of freedom. Memorial Day is for remembering, rededicating and commemorating those soldiers who have fallen and a celebration of those who serve.
To mark this Memorial Day, we reprint Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Today, as in 1863, the nation is at war. It is a struggle not with ourselves, but with those who seek to deny us our freedom. In this battle, not just soldiers face the ultimate sacrifice. Americans of all ages, creeds and parties are in peril. The entire world and all who inhabit it are under threat from Islamist fanatics and other violent radicals. It seems right to recall that America’s struggle is the world’s struggle — the test that transcends the age, “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Long ago, in a land that gave birth to the ideals we as Americans cherish, the Athenian Pericles asked his fellow citizens to honor the dead. “I believe that a death such as theirs has been the true measure of a man’s worth; it may be the first revelation of his virtues, but is at any rate their final seal. For even those who come short in other ways may justly plead the valor with which they have fought for their country; they have blotted out the evil with the good, and have benefited the state more by their public services than they have injured her by their private actions. None of these men were enervated by wealth or hesitated to resign the pleasures of life; none of them put off the evil day in the hope, natural to poverty, that a man, though poor, may one day become rich.
“But, deeming that the punishment of their enemies was sweeter than any of these things, and that they could fall in no nobler cause, they determined at the hazard of their lives to be honorably avenged, and to leave the rest. They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone. And when the moment came, they were minded to resist and suffer, rather than to fly and save their lives; they ran away from the word dishonor, but on the battlefield their feet stood fast, and in an instant, at the height of their fortune, they passed away from the scene, not of their fear, but of their glory.”
The ideals of freedom have changed little since they were first defined in ancient Greece. From its founding, it has fallen to America to honor and advance them. The dedication and the sacrifice of freedom’s defenders is no less great in Baghdad and Kabul than it was at Lexington, at Gettysburg, on the beaches at Normandy and Okinawa and on the plains of Marathon. Neither words nor deeds can pay full 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 protect us now with their vigilance.
Memorial Day should open with the principles that have served since the beginning of the republic.
With the red, white and blue. Memorial Day is a time for Americans to proudly display their patriotism. Each flag that is raised today is a testament to our enemies that we will never bow. As our G.I.s once did on the charred peak of Mt. Suribachi, hoist it high. Put the flag on the car antenna or the bumper. Hang it from the window or on the porch.
With a cheer. Applaud American troops loud and clear, whether at a worship service or a street parade. Shower them with accolades wherever they are recognized.
With a moment to remember. Say a prayer, hug a loved one, turn on your car’s headlights or simply observe a moment of silence.
With a heartfelt thank you. Today, Washington will be blessed with an abundance of veterans. Take a second to shake their hands, pat them on the back or perhaps buy one of them a cup of coffee (or something stronger). Do not forget those heading back to the sound of the guns.
Above all, honor the nation’s fallen by honoring the meaning of this 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 that tribute.
The silent pathways at Arlington Memorial Cemetery and the black angle of the Vietnam Memorial; the towering columns at the World War II Memorial and the nameless statues at the Korean War Memorial. The thousands of markers of sacrifice across the land, from Pearl Harbor to Ground Zero; from beaches of North Africa to the deserts of Iraq.
The usually ignored statues scattered across the city. 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. There’s Gen. George Gordon Meade, standing between Third and Fourth Streets NW, and Commodore John Paul Jones, who stands at Independence Avenue and 17th St. NW.
The stories of the fallen, which can be found on the Internet with a point and 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 terror at www.defendamerica.mil/fallen.html.
Memorial Day is a day to rededicate ourselves to the American ideal. Before the Taps sounds today, renewed appeals to liberty must resound across the land.
Memorial Day should close with a pledge and a promise.
A promise to never forget our founding principles. On the Pentagon’s Web site, each obituary for those killed on September 11 ends with “We will not forget …” On that day, Americans were targeted for what we believe — Dedication to those same principles put Americans in the sights of British Redcoats at Breed’s Hill; in the crosshairs of German artillery at Bastogne; on a plane over a field in Pennsylvania, where Todd Beamer said, “Let’s roll.” Rolling, Todd, rolling. Dedication to those self-evident principles has made America hated by autocrats and Islamist fascists, but loved by the orphans of the storm of tyranny.
A promise to renew our devotion. Memorial Day is a day to commit to taking not just a single minute of one day, but several moments each day to renew our duty to this republic. To recite the Pledge of Allegiance, hand over heart. To bow our head or doff a cap when passing by the weathered 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 in danger while others are at play.
Finally, Memorial Day begins each day that Americans honor their soldiers and remember their heroes. Addressing veterans at Normandy’s Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan said, “You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”