The following editorial has been published in The Sentinel in various forms since the mid-1950s. We update it for Memorial Day 2021.
Memorial Day isn’t a conventional holiday; it’s a day of mourning, a day to remember with gratitude the men and women who died in the service of the United States.
It’s also a day to reflect on why those people died and to reflect on what we have done with the wonderful heritage bequeathed to us.
For that reason, it’s impossible to contemplate the country’s human losses in war without thinking about the wars themselves.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the people who died in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War of 1845, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War.
Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died in World War I, the war to end all wars. And it’s a time to remember those who died defending America and its allies in World War II, two decades after their fathers won the war to end all wars.
Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died in the war to assure democracy for South Korea. And it’s a time to remember those who died in Vietnam, a war about which there may never be a public consensus.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the men and women who died in two separate Iraq wars. And it’s a time to remember those who died in Afghanistan, where battles still rage and Americans still die even as a war-weary public has slipped into complacency about the human toll from a decade of fighting halfway around the world.
Memorial Day is also a time to remember those who died throughout our history in smaller but no less deadly conflicts and attacks: in Hawaii in 1893, in China in 1900, in the Russian Revolution, in Central America and Mexico repeatedly, aboard the USS Liberty, during the incarceration of the USS Pueblo crew, in the Mayagüez incident, in the Iranian desert, in Grenada, twice in Lebanon, on the USS Stark and USS Cole, and in Libya.
On Memorial Day we honor the memory of those men and women by placing flowers on graves and by watching or participating in patriotic ceremonies. But we indicate the true extent of our commitment to those people by the steps we take during the rest of the year to preserve our freedom and to make similar sacrifices unnecessary in the future.
Preserving freedom at home means defending the right of everyone to speak out, complain, listen, read, write, pray or not pray, and assemble as they see fit. And it means standing up to people — whether inside the government or out — who would restrict those rights in the name of some supposedly greater good.
And if we are to do everything in our power to make future supreme sacrifices unnecessary, we must study history and learn from it, keep abreast of current events and participate in the political process.
If we use Memorial Day simply as an excuse to wave the flag or cook hamburgers in the backyard, we rob it of its meaning. If we pause on Memorial Day to renew our commitment to freedom and self-government, we pay the greatest possible tribute to America’s war dead.