Those America will honor with ceremonies Monday lie in silence. They wore our nation’s uniform in defense of freedom — freedom for their fellow Americans and freedom for those in other lands. And they fell in the service of their country.
They lie in the hills of Pennsylvania near Gettysburg where almost 8,000 died during three days of battle and near a quiet creek in north Georgia called Chickamauga where more than 4,000 died in two days of fighting.
They lie near the beaches of Normandy in long rows, white headstones marking the name, rank and unit of the fallen or, in some cases, just stating “Unknown.”
They lie in the fields of France where “the War to End All Wars,” only served as an opening act to an even larger, deadlier war to follow in less than 20 years.
They lie undiscovered in the jungles of Vietnam. They lie in other lands — South Korea, Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan. They lie near the cities where the nation was born and later defended against the same foe — New York, Philadelphia, Yorktown, Baltimore and New Orleans. And in thousands of other places.
Some were professional soldiers. Many were not, They simply stood up to fight for the principles in which they believed and they answered their country’s call to defend those principles again and again.
The tradition of Memorial Day began not long after the Civil War ended, when women in the South would decorate the graves of the fallen, Blue and Gray. The tradition spread northward to become the holiday we know today.
For more than 230 years, the ideals of the United States — almost perfectly encapsulated in the First Amendment to our Constitution that guarantees every American the right to free speech, to a free press, to assemble, to petition government about grievances and to worship as he or she chooses without governmental interference — set the example so many others have tried to reach.
On Monday, we can thank all of those who protected those ideals for us. Even if just for a moment, pause to think about those who sacrificed everything for the rest of us. That’s what Memorial Day is about.