Today we remember those men and women who have fought and died for our country. We remember those who have died in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States, and we honor their sacrifice and courage.
Most people don’t think about what Memorial Day truly means. Most people don’t even know what it means. Lots of Americans know or are related to someone who previously or presently was a member of the Armed Forces, and that is enough to inspire vaguely patriotic and respectful feelings. Sometimes a tweet or Facebook status expresses those feelings, sometimes not.
But Memorial Day is not the day to honor all who are past and present members of the American military. That is Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11. Formerly known as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, Veterans Day remembers all who have served, in both war and peacetime. It is a holiday intended especially to thank living veterans for their service.
Memorial Day remembers those who have given their lives for America, particularly those who died in combat or as a result of wounds sustained in combat. We honor their sacrifice and bloodshed in the service of this nation, and we will not forget what they have done for us.
Today, we remember the courage of the colonists who dared defy the British Empire and led our nation to freedom.
Today, we remember those who believed the young nation could stand against the British in the War of 1812 and fought to preserve America’s sovereignty.
Today, we remember the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the bloody war between the states. We remember both Union and Confederates soldiers, for although the Confederates were ultimately defending slavery, many believed strongly in the importance of states’ rights, and they fought to defend those convictions in the tradition of American spirit. (By no means am I excusing their defense of slavery.)
Today, we remember the lives given in the United States’ pursuit of an empire in the Mexican-American, Spanish-American, and Philippine-American Wars. The cause was wrong but the sacrifice real.
Today, we remember the cost of the many Indian Wars, and I choose to honor both the United States soldiers and the American Indians who died.
Today, we remember the soldiers lost in the horrific trenches and battlefields of World War I.
Today, we remember the incredible courage of the soldiers of World War II and the lives given to defeat Hitler and the Japanese.
Today, we remember the soldiers of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who did not always know why they were fighting and did not always choose their role in the conflict, but who gave their lives anyway.
Today, we remember those who died in the Gulf War.
Today, we remember those who went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq after the horror of 9/11 and did not return.
Today, we remember the servicemen and women who were killed in action last month or last week.
Today, we honor the terrified draftees and the grizzled veterans.
Today, we honor America’s fallen.