An aerial view of the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha beach, site of the vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany.
(Photo credit JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
As many of you champ at the bit waiting for the three day weekend commemorating Memorial Day to start, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on the magnitude of what this “holiday” means to America.
President Ronald Reagan, speaking at Arlington National Cemetery in 1982, noted that Abraham Lincoln dedicated a small cemetery at Gettysburg marking a terrible collision between the armies of the North and South. He concluded that Lincoln was wrong when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.”
Reagan said, “His remarks commemorating those who gave their ‘last full measure of devotion’ were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage—not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words.”
“I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.”
On Memorial Day or any other day, the cemeteries for those Americans who fell in battle offer profound lessons.
In 1950, four-star General Mark W. Clark wrote about returning to Italy after World War II was won. It was Memorial Day, as it happened, and Clark was with his wife.
“We visited the American cemetery at Anzio and saw the curving rows of white crosses that spoke so eloquently of the price that America and her Allies had paid for the liberation of Italy,” he wrote. “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked of Italy was enough of her soil to bury our gallant dead."
How can we remember those who have sacrificed their lives for our country? To honor its war dead who remained overseas, the United States maintains 24 permanent military cemeteries; 22 of them in 8 countries follow the path of American forces in World War I and World War II in the European Theater and the Pacific Theater of the global conflict. These are some of the most highly maintained shrines of their nature in the world. Among the graves are tales of dedication and heroism for the nation.
Beneath the neatly patterned white crosses and Stars of David lie the remains of 125,000 Americans. There are 94,000 more names commemorated on Walls of the Missing whose bodies were never found. Dignified and serene, they were created to honor America's fallen, but they are also intended to inspire and eloquently teach the living the scope of their sacrifice and loss in the sweep of history.
The next few paragraphs are dedicated to my friends who are veterans of Vietnam. I bear no shame in telling you that I revered Ronald Reagan. No one did more to heal the nation with his optimism and patriotism and the promise that America was indeed a land that God had blessed.
On Veteran’s Day 1984, President Reagan spoke at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Statue.
“Those who fought in Vietnam are part of us, part of our history. They reflected the best in us. No number of wreaths, no amount of music and memorializing will ever do them justice but it is good for us that we honor them and their sacrifice. And it's good that we do it in the reflected glow of the enduring symbols of our Republic.”
“The fighting men depicted in the statue we dedicate today, the three young American servicemen, are individual only in terms of their battle dress; all are as one, with eyes fixed upon the memorial bearing the names of their brothers in arms. On their youthful faces, faces too young to have experienced war, we see expressions of loneliness and profound love and a fierce determination never to forget.”
“The men of Vietnam answered the call of their country. Some of them died in the arms of many of you here today, asking you to look after a newly born child or care for a loved one. They died uncomplaining. The tears staining their mud-caked faces were not for self-pity but for the sorrow they knew the news of their death would cause their families and friends.”
“As you knelt alongside his litter and held him one last time, you heard his silent message—he asked you not to forget.”
“When you returned home, you brought solace to the loved ones of those who fell, but little solace was given to you. Some of your countrymen were unable to distinguish between our native distaste for war and the stainless patriotism of those who suffered its scars. But there's been a rethinking there, too. And now we can say to you, and say as a nation: Thank you for your courage. Thank you for being patient with your countrymen. Thank you. Thank you for continuing to stand with us together.”
“The men and women of Vietnam fought for freedom in a place where liberty was in danger. They put their lives in danger to help a people in a land far away from their own. Many sacrificed their lives in the name of duty, honor, and country. All were patriots who lit the world with their fidelity and courage.”
Please stay safe this weekend. Enjoy your freedom and thank you for your readership.