As I sit at my kitchen table looking out at a beautiful early summer Southern day, the pandemic seems distant. I can reflect on the contrast between the suffering and challenges we face and the blessings we have been given. Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to realize that while our nation has faced grave challenges, her heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice so that our great American story can live on, inspiring the downtrodden and oppressed.
Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day and was started after the Civil War as a way of honoring our American dead. After the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln recognized the sanctity and meaning of this ultimate sacrifice stating:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
Later, this past century, after being renamed Memorial Day, this holiday came to represent the American dead from all wars. The last century saw our nation engaged in prolonged and deadly wars in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. During this century, Americans fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. During these struggles, Americans gave themselves to protect others and to make sure that liberty’s beacon continued to shine. These heroes and their sacrifice reflect what is beautiful and noble and great about this country.
This pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people. We have seen great generosity and sacrifice, but we have also seen division and discord. My hope is that today and going forward, inspired by the sacrifices of our heroes, we can look more to the things that unite us than at the things that divide us. I pray that we can celebrate our common identity and go forward to continue the forward progress of this great nation.