Memorial Day memories: A debt we cannot repay
This past weekend, many Americans celebrated Memorial Day, by getting together with family and friends to indulge in grilled burgers and hotdogs. But, for some celebrants, Memorial Day also brought memories of loved ones whose lives were taken from them, as they defended our country in the United States Armed Forces.
Originally established on May 30, 1868, the federal holiday was first used as a way to remember those who were lost in the Civil War. The tradition of visiting the graves of those who died in military service was quickly developed, as “(a)pproximately one in four soldiers that went to war never returned home,” according to Civil War research by the American Battlefield Trust. The holiday continued to be held on May 30 through 1970, and over those years, the number of its honorees expanded, with the arrival of two world wars and the Korean War.
Although the date of the holiday was changed to the last Monday in May in 1971, the significance of the holiday remained the same. The number of those who have been lost in service to our country continues to grow, as the United States Armed Forces are engaged in combat operations around the world. While we may not all agree with the ways in which our federal government utilizes its troops, we must recognize that every life lost in military service is a tragedy. That person will never get the chance to return to his or her family, to see their faces one last time, to tell them “I love you,” to grow old with them. That person puts his or her life on the line, with the hope that is or her sacrifice will protect his or her country and the freedom it stands for.
Every day, about 1.4 million people are serving in the United States Armed Forces, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center. Even though not all of them are currently deployed to dangerous locations, they never know when they will be told to pack up their bags and hop on the next plane. One day, they’re in relative safety. The next, they’re risking their lives in a combat zone.
For those of us who have not served in the military–92.7 percent of Americans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs–we must not allow ourselves to forget the value of each life that has been sacrificed. Each life is one person, whose sacrifice allows us to live in a world where we are free to make our own choices and live as we want.
We must not forget those who have lost their lives, or those who are currently risking theirs in military service. While we continue to enjoy our freedom by taking a long weekend at the end of May and getting out the grill, we must remember the reason why we have this freedom.
Freedom, and the hope it promises us and our families, is a priceless gift.
As former President Barack Obama best said, “Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay.”