It was over 50 years ago that I swore an oath to defend my country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic” and that “I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” If you are a veteran, I am sure, like me, you remember that day well. That day for me was September 9, 1969, at the induction center in Los Angeles, California. Even though I had been drafted, I felt proud that I was going to serve my country. I had reverence for what I was doing. I had a feeling of awe and wonder about what I had just sworn to do: defend with my life and die if I must, for people that I didn’t know and never would.
This was at the height of the Vietnam war, a place I had no desire to go. Every night on the six o’clock news they reported on the number killed and missing in action. We also heard about the war protests and people burning draft cards and fleeing to Canada to escape the war. After the Tet offensive in 1968, Walter Cronkite, the most trusted newsman in America declared that we had lost the war.
So, why did I go? Why did so many others, like me, go halfway around the world to fight a war that, according to Walter Cronkite, we had already lost?
We went because our country asked us to. We went because we felt a responsibility to our country, a place where we were free to be and do as we pleased. I went personally because I had a sense of duty, a desire for adventure, and I wanted to test myself. I went because, like so many of you, I love my country. Those we honor today did not die so that our freedoms could be taken away.
Those we honor today did not die so that our freedoms could be taken away.
The sorrow of veterans. For many of us, it’s deeply sad that the idea which has made America the greatest country on earth is being attacked every day.
We’re forgetting who we are—and the love God expects we show for all these blessings. Tom Selleck, who plays the character Frank Regan from the TV show Blue Bloods, reminded all patriots who they are when he said, “you know who you are, be that.”
That’s not easy to do. We are living in difficult times for sure, but America has faced difficult times in the past. Our history includes the bleak days during the Revolution when all seemed as if it was doomed to fail, the Civil War when we were fighting brother against brother, and the frightening beginning of our entrance into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As Abraham Lincoln said in 1862, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion.” We survived then and we will survive again. When the country is in peril it has always been the military the country has turned to in order to make things right again. It’s men and women who are willing to fight and die for an ideal that has made America great and has kept it great for 246 years.
We will hopefully continue to honor these men and women, those who were willing to lay down their lives for us and the future of America.
A day set apart to remember. We honor them each year on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day. Memorial Day—which was originally called Decoration Day and was first observed in 1868. It was Major General John Alexander Logan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Union of the Republic, a fraternal order of Union Civil War veterans, who issued a proclamation calling for a “Decoration Day” to be observed nationwide and annually to decorate the graves of Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate. The day chosen was May 30th because it was a day with no anniversary of a major battle and a day with plenty of spring flowers in which to decorate the graves.
On that first recognized Decoration Day, events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 of the 38 United States. At the end of the first World War, the commemoration was broadened to recognize not only Civil War dead, but all military men who died in the service of their country. It wasn’t until after the end of World War II that the holiday came to be known as Memorial Day. Many people now use the day to remember any of their loved ones who have perished, including the innocent men, women and children in the recent tragedies of New York and Texas.
New evidence on the origins of Decoration Day was uncovered by David Blight, a Yale history professor (see also this recent video). He discovered previously lost evidence from old newspapers stating that Charleston South Carolina was the first city to observe Decoration Day on May 1, 1865. Prior to that on February 15, 1865, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered the evacuation of Confederate soldiers from Charleston in the wake of an impending attack by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. The city’s white population evacuated, leaving thousands of former black slaves. Symbolically, General Sherman ordered that the first Union troops to enter the city be from the 21st Infantry and the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments, both comprised of black men, including some former slaves.
On May 1st, black workmen (recently freed slaves from Charleston) voluntarily dug up every Union soldier who had died in the Charleston prisoner of war camp—aware that these soldiers had been buried in a hastily dug mass grave before the Confederate army fled the city. The recently freed slaves reburied them in properly dug graves and rendered the proper honors they were due. Afterward, a memorial was celebrated with a parade of school children, citizens, and Union soldiers.
Professor Blight goes on to argue that Memorial Day was founded by African Americans in order to remember the fact that the Civil War was ultimately fought to abolish slavery. When the white southern leaders returned to Charleston the memory of the event was actively suppressed and had been lost to history until David Blight rediscovered it in those old newspapers.
Remembering real lives today. This year Memorial Day will be held on May 30th. It will be celebrated with parades, speeches, and backyard barbecues. A few years ago, Keith E. Harmon, the Commander-in-Chief of the VFW said, “This is the day we pause to remember those in uniform who sacrificed their lives in defense of the nation. But that sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. By honoring the nation’s war dead, we preserve their memory and thus, their service and sacrifice.”
Years ago, President John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Many men and women took that statement to heart. They served, in part, because they wanted to give back to their country. I’m not sure many young people feel that way today. Military service is generally undertaken by a select few. During World War II, 12% of the population served in the military although countless others served in factories, in offices, and on farms to support the war effort. By comparison, there have been only 1.4 million men and women serving in the U. S. military since 2015—representing barely 0.4% of the population. It was after the Battle of Britain that Winston Churchill honored his military when he said “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” We in America could say the same thing about those who have been fighting the war on terror, especially those who gave their lives.
This Memorial Day I will be honoring the 14 service members who were the last to die in Afghanistan during the 2021 evacuation ordered by President Biden. Their names are:
- Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts
- Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California
- Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
- Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California
- Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
- Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
- Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
- Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri
- Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming
- Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California
- Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
- Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
- Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio
- Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee. Sgt. Knauss was wounded in the bombing and then later died on Sept 3, 2021. He was the last of the 2,461 service members to die in Afghanistan.
Our freedoms are under assault more today than ever before. Those we honor today did not die so that our freedoms could be taken away. As with all veterans who give their lives, we owe them something. That something is to do our best to preserve the United States and the freedom for which it stands so that our freedom will live on for our children and our grandchildren.
A final word. One of the many freedoms under attack today is the freedom of religion. Our founding fathers wanted freedom of religion not freedom from religion. This is evident in how often our Creator is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. From that esteemed document:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
It continues, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Just as those we are honoring on Memorial Day paid a price, so must we.
Just as those we are honoring on Memorial Day paid a price, so must we.
The first Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We must do our part to preserve these rights. Just as those we are honoring on Memorial Day paid a price, so must we. Freedom is not cheap. The price was high for the last 14 men and women who died in Afghanistan, where they had tried to preserve the Afghanis’ own freedoms.
We have all heard the words of our National Anthem, singing the first verse many times which ends with this question, “Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
I call on all patriots everywhere to ensure that it does and that it will.