Monday is Memorial Day. It is often thought of as the weekend marking the beginning of summer, and families often plan cookouts or recreational activities to celebrate the day together. For many, though, the solemnity of the day and the sacrifices of the men and women who gave their lives for our country always come first and foremost.
Warfare today is very different from what it was in the past, and so is the news. During the Revolutionary War, it might take a few weeks for a dispatch to move from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to Charleston, South Carolina. Even during World War 2, war news could take a few days to reach home.
Today, with the internet and satellites, battles can be reported in a matter of seconds. Folks back home can watch missiles address and hit their targets almost immediately.
The news and technology are different, but men and women still die in the service of the United States today just as they have from the inception of the nation. Sacrifice for all of us and our country is the constant, and the pain of loss is no different.
There will be many services this weekend to honor those who have made the supreme sacrifice, including a very special one in Radford. This year will mark Radford’s 21st Annual Memorial Day ceremony, believed to be the largest in the area. The service will honor 59 of the city’s citizens who died in service to America. It begins at 11 a.m. on Monday near the gazebo in Radford’s Bisset Park. Of course, this memorial service is free and open to the public.
There are several traditions related to Memorial Day that should be remembered, according to the History Channel website. The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, and then raised to the top of the staff. Also, since 2000 and through legislation passed in Congress, all Americans are urged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.
Poppies are often a symbol of remembrance on Memorial Day. In the spring of 1915, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, spotted a cluster of poppies shortly after the Second Battle of Ypres.
The sight of the bright red flowers against the bleak setting of war inspired McCrae to write the poem “In Flanders Field.” In it, he gives a voice to the fallen soldiers when he writes: “We are the Dead. Short days ago // We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, // Loved and were loved, and now we lie, // In Flanders fields.”
The poppies were immortalized at the beginning of his poem: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow // Between the crosses, row on row, // That mark our place…”
Another writer who captured the horror of war and the honor that should be given to the fallen was Abraham Lincoln in “The Gettysburg Address.” It was a short but very poignant speech.
Lincoln’s immortal words echo through history because he captured the sense of sacrifice made by soldiers: “It is rather 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—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.”
Lincoln made his point perfectly. Americans should never forget that the soldiers who are sent to war by our leaders are doing their duty to protect our liberty and to allow us to enjoy all of the freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted. They have given us the greatest gift any one person can share with another—their lives.
We should not just remember them for their sacrifices alone, but be sincerely grateful for the gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness they have bestowed upon us.
We live in the land of the free because of these brave men and women. We should remember them not just on Memorial Day, but every day.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.