This weekend, Americans in large numbers will visit our national cemeteries and other final resting places to honor their loved ones, their friends, neighbors, colleagues, even some unknown to them—men and women who gave their lives in defense of our Nation. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on their service and their sacrifice, even as our Armed Forces are performing difficult and dangerous missions in distant lands. They continue to safeguard our American way of life.
Memorial Day is set aside to honor the more than one million of our fellow citizens who have fallen in battle since the founding of our Republic. Their service helped to shape us as a Nation and secured, for us and our friends and allies, our security in a troubled world. Except for their service, we all would be facing different circumstances today. During World War II, American forces literally helped to save the world from tyranny and oppression. Those who marched to the guns in the 1950’s saved a Nation. And the most devastating conflict in our history, the American Civil War, preserved a Union that would, within a hundred years, emerge as a world power, dedicated to preserving freedom and liberty. Every generation has done its duty, just as today’s 1.37 million members of our Armed Forces are doing theirs under difficult circumstances.
On Memorial Day, their service in uniform stands in contrast to our ball games and backyard barbeques. Our defenders are ordinary Americans performing extraordinary deeds, bearing all the risks for our way of life. In remembering the Fallen, we honor the men and women who kept faith with our enduring principles of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We remember, as well, those who keep the faith today and honor their patriotism, valor, dedication, and loyalty.
A memorial written by Civil War-era orator, Robert Green Ingersoll, eloquently captures the significance of Memorial Day for all generations of our Fallen:
“They died for liberty—they died for us. They are at rest.
They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless …
Earth may run red with other wars, but they are at peace.
In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.”
I join with all VA employees in honoring those who have been called to the Altar of Freedom, in offering prayers for them and their families, who sacrifice still today, and in asking for the Almighty’s continued blessings on this great Nation.
-- Eric K. Shinseki