By Lee Kilpatrick
Every spring, on the last weekend of May, we all look forward to a long holiday weekend. But this long holiday weekend is truly like no other, in that we remember those who fought and died for our freedom here in America.
Memorial Day’s origins go back well over a century, back to the immediate post-Civil War era as surviving relatives in the North and South commemorated the deaths of nearly 750,000 fathers, sons, and brothers on both sides of the conflict. Over the next couple of decades, the day became known first as Decoration Day, for the flowers laid at each tombstone and gravesite, and then Memorial Day.
Since our country’s founding in the late 1700s, not a single generation has gone without some of its sons and, and in more recent times, daughters, too, making the ultimate sacrifice to protect our democracy and way of life. In recent times, we have mourned nearly 7,000 dead during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars to defeat terrorists and their sympathizers.
Some of the statistics are staggering. In Vietnam and Korea, nearly 89,000 lost their lives to stop the worldwide spread of communism. In World War II, over 400,000 young Americans died protecting Europe from Hitler and the Nazis, in addition to eliminating Japanese aggression in the Pacific. Another 116,000 men died defeating the Germans alongside World War I allies France, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
All told, more than 1.3 million young men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice—their own lives—to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy on a daily basis. Thomas Jefferson, the future American president, wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” While we literally hold these rights as sacred in our country, we know all too well that nowhere in the Declaration, nor in any of our other treasured founding documents, do the Founding Fathers ever say these rights come without a price.
Our history of the last 250 years proves that the price has been very high, indeed, and the preservation of the world’s greatest social experiment requires that each generation rise to the occasion. And while our combat deaths have dropped sharply, mainly to advances in weaponry and battlefield, medicine, tens of thousands of men come home wounded and some continue to give the ultimate sacrifice.
Take some time this Memorial Day weekend to say a prayer for all of those who have given so much for our country.
Image Credit: US Department of Veterans Affairs.