- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009



The idea of “we the people” and “forming a perfect union” - an experiment in self-government - was there from the beginning, well before James Madison framed it and put it into words. It is an idea that has come to be accepted as one of the unique aspects of the human experience.

Thomas Jefferson surely never could have imagined the far-reaching ramifications throughout the world when he wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But over the next 2 1/2 centuries, this idea would call brave Americans to face the challenge of the bitter winter at Valley Forge, experience the human carnage at Little Round Top, the killing field of the Argonne Forest, the bloody beaches at Normandy. Those Americans would encounter imminent death at Pork Chop Hill, the siege of Khe Sanh, the final assault on Baghdad or the danger of combating insurgency in Afghanistan.

So, just who are and were these Americans who have so bravely defended our way of life? Quite simply, they are Native Americans, West European-Americans, East European-Americans, Russian-Americans, Australian-Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Our families come from all over the world to settle in America, to escape political oppression or pursue not only economic opportunity, but religious freedom as well. We are Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and members of many lesser-known religions. It is also our right to choose not to affiliate with any specific faith or religion or to be a nonbeliever.

Today is a day that traditionally marks the beginning of summer and that we set aside for remembrance of those who have died in our nation’s service. Memorial Day was proclaimed on May 5, 1868. It is observed in every state of the Union on the last Monday in May. Including the Civil War deaths (numbering some 650,000), more than 1.1 million veterans, both women and men, have lost their lives in service to our great country.

In recent times, we also have included fallen police officers and firefighters and others who gave their lives in the performance of their duties to our free society. They have carried the American flag, and the ideals and values for which it stands, to every corner of the world.

They don’t go for glory or honor or fame. They are commanded to go because their duly elected officials, who represent the American people, including you and me, ask them to place themselves in harm’s way.

The First Amendment to the Constitution speaks to freedom of speech, and we are truly blessed because of that amendment. That blessed First Amendment gives us that freedom … but what and who defends it? I suggest it is not the campus organizer, faculty member or journalist but the pride, the skill and the courage and commitment of the American uniformed military.

It’s the American soldier, sailor, Marine or airman who defends our right to demonstrate. No, it is not the news reporter or the political pundit who defends freedom of the press. It’s the American uniformed military, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech. And it’s the American uniformed military members who serve under the flag, who defend the protesters’ right to burn the flag - and defend those who actually believe freedom is somehow … free.

How many of us can honestly say we would choose the path of most resistance in order to serve? We can all sit back and hang a flag in our windows or flaunt a bumper sticker that says, “Support the Troops,” but how many of us will actually dedicate our lives?

On Memorial Day, to those who sacrificed their lives and gave all they had to give, we owe our freedom, our happiness and our lives in gratitude.

To conclude my thoughts on the significance of Memorial Day in America: Scratched on a wall in one of the 6-foot-by-9-foot darkened cells that held our tortured prisoners of war during the Vietnam War for up to nine years in what is commonly referred to as the Hanoi Hilton are the following words: “Freedom has a taste to those who fight and die for their country … that the protected will never know.”

Travis Sample is a professor of public administration at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

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