SAN JOSE: Memorial Day was born from tragedy. The loss of some 620,000 men and boys, dying in the ashes of the American Civil War is tragic. The incredibly painful experience of the nation’s loss on such a massive scale causing the Veteran’s Association to provide a practical means for the families and survivors to mourn and to honor their loved ones and family members.
The holiday was originally called “Decoration Day.” The meaning was so survivors would have a way of honoring the Union soldiers who gave their lives that the United States would survive as a nation.
In memory of those that gave all
Memorial Day rests upon that original foundation and continued to represent the day to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in service to their country on some distant or foreign battlefield.
It is highly likely that Abraham Lincoln, as a living witness to such a horribly divisive and destructive war, felt compelled to offer perspective to Americans on the conflict. To reflect on the supreme sacrifice of so many. To pen the famous Gettysburg Address.
In the middle of the horrendous war, Abraham Lincoln expressed such a perspective in his sentiments when he honored the soldiers who fought and died at Gettysburg:
“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
What Lincoln at Gettysburg did to put the war in context, applies to the United States today:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Memorial Day as a holiday in memory of heroes
Today, like the topic of death itself, Memorial Day tends to conjure up issues people would rather not discuss. Despite the fun at gatherings all around the country in this period, Memorial Day is not the most pleasant of holidays due to its original purpose. It is much easier to throw a barbeque together, or go to a ball game, or to take advantage of the extended weekend, and take a micro-vacation.
Yet, after the horrible tragedy on September 11, 2001, Memorial Day became a more meaningful holiday.
Today, Memorial Day is a celebration a bit more in keeping with the honoring of fallen heroes.
War is hell. The cost is high.
That war is hell, an aberration of humanity’s purpose on the planet is true to most reasonable human beings. But the causes of war and regional wars exist around the world, with the threat of war hanging over people’s heads on every continent.
The United States is again suffering from a bitter divide. It seems to many people, America will plunge into another civil war. But, such a dim outlook of the world is why Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg are so appropriate today.
He appropriately honored the fallen heroes, but he spoke to the living as well.
Abraham Lincoln speaks to the living today:
“It is for us the living, for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
To Lincoln, that cause was the purpose for the nation’s creation in the first place, that cause was freedom. Lincoln loved that this nation had been
“…conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
He was such a man that he would not shrink from that great task of ensuring
“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The cause of Freedom and Liberty
The cause of Freedom and Liberty for all was the prime cause for which those in uniform offer their lives. If those brave men and boys of the Army of the Republic did not sacrifice their lives, the history of this nation would be very different.
Most likely with the destruction of the Union and the prolongation of the institution of slavery.
But, the nation survived the Civil War, despite incredible odds that it would not.
Today, most Americans take it for granted that the United States would endure that civil war. However, hindsight insulates modern Americans from the intensity and turbulence of the moment. In the time since, however, greater clarity and purpose propelled U.S. leaders.
Obviously, clarity of purpose did not exist all the time, as much of the time corruption has taken its toll. Yet especially, in times of testing, such as in Lincoln’s time, great leaders rose to ensure that the great task, the cause of freedom, would have a leader.
A leader is not a leader unless there are those who will follow.
Throughout other dark times, the history of this nation and the world would have turned out differently if there weren’t those brave men and women who took increased devotion to that cause for which those who came before them gave the last full measure of their devotion.
These are the brave men and women in uniform whose dedication to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America with their very lives is very real. And it reaches back to Gettysburg.
That is why Americans should
“…resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
That is why all Americans who love this nation should “be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
That is why Americans who love freedom for all should resolve that:
“this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”