Memorial Day Tribute: With humble gratitude to those who sacrifice

On Memorial Day, heartfelt thanks to soldiers who work to keep our nation free Photo: Memorial Day

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2013 — America is a great nation, and for that greatness we owe a debt of humble gratitude to the men and women who serve in the military to keep our nation free. It is our privilege and our duty to thank those who serve without thought for personal safety, who have no expectation of thanks or reward.

We owe thanks every day to those who risk their lives for this country, a nation built on ideas that can fill our hearts with pride. But today ― especially today ― we remember with pride and sorrow those who came before and who bought for us our opportunities and our freedoms with their lives.

SEE RELATED: Memorial Day: An essay for all who gave their lives for Freedom

The line of American heroes stretches back to our nation’s founding. Many of us are bound to that line by ties of blood. Our brothers, sisters, fathers and grandfathers stand proudly in that line. Some heroes we learn about in school; we learn their names and what they did. Many more are nameless, lost among the millions who left home and family to serve, because it was their duty. They fought, and many died, on fields far from home, far from those who loved them. They stood up for us quietly, anonymously, their sacrifice bringing us not only hope, but hope fulfilled, and lifetimes of freedom to live and prosper.

Their selfless acts are woven into the tapestry of American history, a priceless treasure to remind us of who we are, where we came from, and the price that was paid for liberty and opportunity and the idea of America. And so we must remember, with gratitude, all that they have done.

We write the stories of their efforts, we look at their pictures, we recall today ― especially today ― what it means to be an American. We remember that America is not a nation of subjects, of people who only live, work and play here, but of people who participate in the life of this country. A great nation depends on participation. It is never a finished work, but always a work in process. Greatness is not a destination, but a journey. Our nation has been enriched by the treasure ― the blood of the best of us ― that has been poured out in service to our ideals, to restore and rebuild and meet the needs of all peoples.

And so we celebrate, honoring our troops and the long line of heroes that stretches across our history in an endeavor that must never end.

SEE RELATED: Honor our veterans every day, not just Memorial Day

To forget would be to throw away the sacrifices they made for us and for future generations. It would be to deny the greatness of this nation, and to deny ourselves the future the fallen would have bequeathed us. It would be a crime of complacency.

Complacency snaps always at our heels. We are a nation of consumers wanting this and that. We often fail to understand the freedoms we have, or how they are protected ― and not understanding them, we don’t value them. We insulate ourselves from the rest of the world, not really understanding the news stories about people jailed somewhere oversees for saying out loud what they believe.

They are jailed for an unaliable right that we enjoy ― and take for granted ― in this country because of those we remember today.

We live in a world made harsh by human nature, human frailties, and the persistant blight of war. May we always be a nation that fights for the life of every American, never forgetting the bravery and battles won by those who served for us, never forgetting why they fought, and never abandoning that fight, whether at war or in peace, on the battlefield or in the voting booth.

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Those we honor today helped build and preserve a way of life that many in other nations have no idea is even possible.

It is our responsibility, today and every day, as free people in a nation full of incredible blessings, to protect the freedom we have and never take it for granted. Yes, dare we boldly say out loud here in America that our freedoms are taken for granted? Dare we warn our neighbors anymore to be sure and remember those who gave their lives to protect and preserve and further what we have today?

This day that we celebrate as Memorial Day is the saddest and most difficult of our holidays. It reminds us of the absence of friends and loved ones, of precious lives lost, of the cost born by Americans for the country we have. At the same time, we joyfully celebrate what their blood bought us. We remember with humble gratitude the men and women we know and the millions we don’t know who serve and who served. We take joy in that long, proud line of fellow Americans, patriots whose love for their country was unstoppable, who loved a country that is powerful because it is good.

How can we shirk such a noble responsibility to pause and remember them, not only on Memorial Day, but every day? Memory is not just a responsibility, but an honor. 

We must write what they have done not only in our history books, but in our hearts. America is a great nation, and it will remain great only if we are a great people. We will be great only if we remember who we are and how we got here. Memory will spur us on to live in gratitude, to participate in the life of this nation, to honor the ideals that it was built upon. It will make us worthy heirs of the men and women who built this nation. It will make us people that they would be proud to own as worthy of the great treasure they bequeathed us, the great nation they fought for, the precious tapestry that is America and her history.

And that is why we must remember.

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