When the ink dried on that hallowed document we know as the Declaration of Independence, two things occurred. First, the world was blessed with a blueprint for freedom, in the form of a charter of liberty that forever broke with the philosophy of the divine right of kings, instead acknowledging for the first time that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. It proclaimed that in this nation men are sovereign, and their government serves them, deriving its just powers from their consent.
The second thing that occurred was that, having penned their names to that document, the Founding Fathers had pledged their lives to the cause of freedom; for had that war for independence failed, the Declaration of Independence would have become their death warrant. If the forces of King George had prevailed, then these men would not have been patriots founding a new nation, but traitors to their king.
The first American army could barely justify that designation. They were nothing more than a ragtag band of farmers and merchants hastily organized in an effort to maintain their newfound freedom. They were undisciplined, untrained, outnumbered and overmatched by a superior fighting force. Yet they fought for freedom for themselves and their posterity, and many paid the price of that freedom with their own blood. Washington’s armies often were without the funds needed for supplies, and when shoes wore out the soldiers wrapped their feet in rags, which were quickly torn to shreds by the ice and rocks, leaving their feet to be torn and bruised as they marched on; more died of dysentery and other disease than fell by the sword.
More than two centuries have passed, and our military has evolved from that ragtag band of farmers and merchants into the finest fighting force the world has ever known. Their weapons are far more advanced, their training and discipline unparalleled, but these valiant men and women are still driven by the same thing as their forefathers; a love of their God and their country, and a desire to uphold the great legacy of liberty bequeathed to them by generations past.
More than one million men and women have given their lives in the service of their country, and an infinitesimal few will ever have their names and stories lauded in the history books. Their fallen bodies have littered the fields of battle at home and around the world. From Antietam to Fallujah, from Bull Run to the Bulge, from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the desert sands of Afghanistan, they work tirelessly, laying their lives on the line each and every day, with little praise or even thanks, all that we here at home can enjoy the benefits of a nation built upon their backs and nourished with their blood.
As the dawn rises on this Memorial Day, where will our thoughts lie? As we fire up the barbeque grills and break out the baseballs and gloves, as we go to the beaches and enjoy time with our families, will we remember in whose honor we celebrate this holy day? Will we take a moment to kneel in prayer and thank our Creator for blessing this nation with brave souls willing to lose their lives for their fellow man? Or will we go to mattress sales and sports events, never stopping to honor the memories of their sacrifices?
General Douglas McArthur, addressing the new cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, captures the essence of the American soldier. Said he, “Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures -- not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast…From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs in memory's eye, I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light."
The American Revolution, the War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, the War Between the States, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. These and many more wars and military engagements have called upon our soldiers to once again rise up and take up arms in defense of their nation. After each one we have lain our men and women to rest; some were brought home and given their justified honors, buried in our cemeteries reserved for those that sacrificed all, white tombstones adorned with their names, with crosses, or stars of David, even in death giving honor to that God who gave them life.
In the Holy Bible, Book of John, Chapter 15, verse 13, Jesus Christ, upon whose teachings the laws of this nation and its government are based, said to his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
On the solemn day reserved in their honor, before we enjoy a carefree day away from work, spending time with our families, I pray that we each take a few moments to honor our dead, those that have fallen on the fields of battle securing the liberties which we too often take for granted. May we take the time to teach our children the meaning of this holy day. May we take time to instill deep within their hearts a solemn reverence for the blood spilt by generations past for our sake. And may we, with utmost sincerity, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility, offer up words of praise to our God for blessing us with so many, who sacrificed so much, who demanded so little in return.