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‘Democracy’s Children’ and Memorial Day

By Staff | May 22, 2009

Poet Robert Pinsky called the men and women we honor on Memorial Day, “democracy’s children less eager than willing, more dutiful than brave, victors not conquerors in freedom’s name.”

Based on my experience here in Iraq, I could not agree more. For 234 years, America’s sons and daughters have put their lives on the line for something bigger than themselves – freedom.

Memorial Day was born of compassion and empathy. In 1863, the same year West Virginia became a state, grieving widows in Columbus, Mississippi, dedicated a day to clearing Confederate soldiers’ graves and placing flowers on them.

While there, they noticed the Union soldiers’ graves were also overgrown with weeds. The Confederate women understood that the dead Union soldiers were husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers of faraway families. They cleared and laid flowers on the Union graves as well.

That day in Columbus, Mississippi is thought to have been the first Memorial Day; nineteen years later the nation observed its first official Memorial Day. Until 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated every year on May 30th.

Later, the federal government changed Memorial Day to the last Monday of May. Every year at this time we gather to reflect on the sacrifices of so many Americans and acknowledge “democracy’s children” who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Every Memorial Day, ‘Taps’ is played at 3 p.m. throughout America to honor the contributions of our fallen service members. All Americans are encouraged to show their respect for their sacrifice by observing a moment of silence in their memory at 3 p.m.

Oliver Wendell Holmes called this “our most sacred holiday,” and he urged that “we not ponder with sad thoughts the passing of our heroes, but rather ponder their legacy the life they made possible for us by their commitment and their pain.”

General George Patton said during a Memorial Day service, “We come here to thank God that men and women like these lived, rather than regret that they died.”

President Franklin Roosevelt observed that the men and women we honor on Memorial Day fought “not for the lust of conquest, but to end conquest, to liberate, to let justice and tolerance and good will arise among all God’s people.”

This Memorial Day weekend, residents of the Eastern Panhandle remember the brave Americans of every generation who have given their lives for freedom, liberated the oppressed, and left the world a safer and better place

– Tom Maiden lives in Shepherdstown with his wife and four children. He is currently serving in Iraq. When not serving as a “Citizen Sailor”, Tom works part time teaching insurance & financial planning at Shepherd University and owns a financial planning practice in Shepherdstown.