The title of this blog is what President Abraham Lincoln, in his famous address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, called the sacrifice of those who fell at the Battle of Gettysburg. Memorial Day marks one of the most sacred of all national holidays. Different from Veterans Day, which honors those who have served our nation in the Armed Forces, Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives serving our nation.
When I speak to veterans who saw combat, it is clear that civilians like me—no matter how much history we have read or studied—can never fully comprehend what it means to lose a comrade in battle or in the course of service. We can read stories of veterans who gave of themselves in heroic fashion, like Sgt. Travis Atkins, who wrestled a suicide bomber to the ground to save the lives of his patrol in Iraq. We can learn about deaths that can feel senseless, like Charles McMahon and Darwin Lee Judge, who died the day before Saigon fell in 1975, or the 13 Marines at the Abbey Gate who died in an ISIS suicide bomb attack during the flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan. These are the tragedies that resonate with the American public. We can honor these veteran heroes by learning their stories. We also can reflect on the American soldiers listed as missing in action or whose remains are unidentified, causing untold grief for those families.
I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices that too many Americans have made as they fought to protect our freedoms. These are soldiers from every race, religion, creed, ethnicity, and economic background. They answered the call to serve and gave the “last full measure of devotion.” Let’s teach our children to respect their sacrifice and pause to honor them this coming weekend.