On Memorial Day, we honor the brave who served their country

To mark Memorial Day, flags are placed at every tomb at Arlington National Cemetery.
To mark Memorial Day, flags are placed at every tomb at Arlington National Cemetery. AP

Each year we observe Memorial Day to honor and remember the heroes of our heritage – those, as President Dwight Eisenhower once put it, whose “constancy and courage constitute the bulwark that guards the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”

Since the founding of our nation, more than 42 million Americans have stepped forward to serve their country in its hours of need, and more than a million have died so their children and ours could share in the freedoms set forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”.

These Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard personnel came from every corner of America, and every walk of life – each different, each an individual who made a choice, yet all shared the same dream of freedom that gave birth to our Nation and carried the light of liberty to millions across the globe.

The tradition of remembrance is an old one, begun after the Civil War to commemorate the estimated 750,000 men in blue and grey who fought and died to alternately divide or preserve the union of the United States.

Known then as “Decoration Day” for the ceremonies across the land that adorned the graves of the fallen, it later became Memorial Day to honor the dead of every war in which Americans have fought and died defending our great democracy and that or our allies.

Still there are those who ask, why are such ceremonies needed? Oliver Wendall Holmes answered this best when he wrote, “Even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear…it is enough for us to hold this day as dear and sacred.”

Of the million-plus men and women who have died in American military service, the vast majority are “everyday heroes.” They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who, in their sacrifice, have left unfulfillable holes in families, communities and hearts across this country. Their comradery, their bravery and their commitment to duty should never be forgotten.

John F. Kennedy, a Navy veteran of World War II and a Purple Heart recipient once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

We remember the families of the fallen warriors – their spouses and children, moms and dads, who live every day with their loss, and shoulder a debt we can never repay.

Today, we face new threats from powerful nation-state adversaries who are challenging the world order, as well as from terrorist groups who are increasing the lethality of their weapons and outreach capabilities. We must have faith that they will be met with the same courage and commitment by the young men and women who are the backbone of our national defense.

And on this day, and every Memorial Day to come, we will remember. As President Trump said last year on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, “We can never replace them. We can never repay them. But we can always remember.”