It was the great honor of my husband’s life to be an American soldier. It was, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “the fulfillment of all (his) boyish hopes and dreams.”
It is the American Dream that draws us to gather in cemeteries on Memorial Day. Whether it be Arlington or one of our local burial sites, the great question to be asked is, “What dreams lie here?”
What dreams lie here, in the cemeteries of America and under the headstones of our national heroes? Which dreams lie within the caskets that were returned home, draped with an American flag? Which dreams of the weeping mother lie here with the remains of her young son? Which dreams of the surviving child lie here with the father he never even knew? Which dreams of a better time, a better place and a better hope for America lie here — dreams seemingly lost and without the capacity to ever come true?
Memorial Day truly is the most solemn of all our national holidays. It is a day to remember and honor those who have died while serving in the United States armed services.
Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War.
How many dreams were left on those battlefields, lying unfulfilled and seemingly forgotten?
Americans who survived the horrors of the Civil War took it upon themselves to visit the burial sites of their fallen service members, and to decorate their graves. In fact, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
The word “decorate” has two principal meanings — “to adorn and make beautiful in appearance;” and “to add honor to”.
We might decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers, flags and photos. Fellow service members might even leave coins on a headstone indicating their level of association with the deceased hero.
While all of this is well and good, if we culminate our Memorial Day celebrations with nothing more than a tangible decoration on a grave, we will have missed the very point of this sacred day.
We have the responsibility — even the obligation — to decorate these heroes by adding honor to the sacrifice that each of them has made.
To decorate, remember, means “to add honor to.”
To add honor to.
Not just to give honor to, or to confer honor upon, but to add honor to.
We decorate their memories and add honor to their lives by speaking their names, by telling their stories, and by remembering and reaching out to the families they have left behind.
Memorial Day is quite literally a day to add to the honor of the men and women who have given their “last full measure of devotion” by remembering the reason and motivation behind that sacred gift. Indeed, it is a day for us to pause and remember the ultimate sacrifices that have been made so that we might be free to pursue the very American Dream.
It goes without saying that the families of the fallen do not need federally sanctioned holidays like Memorial Day to remind them of the price their loved one has paid. Trust me. No reminder is needed. They remember every minute of every hour of every day just how high the price of freedom truly is, for that price has been paid with their loved one’s dreams.
So days like Memorial Day must exist to remind us, the rest of us, the rest of America, of the duty we owe to those who died fulfilling the sacred duty they took upon themselves, to defend you and me and the very Constitution of these United States of America from every enemy, foreign or domestic. Every enemy that might seek to destroy us from without and from within. Every enemy that might seek to take the American Dream and snuff it out like a candle in the night.
It now falls on us to reach for that candle and to pick it up like a torch. It falls on us to kindle the flame of freedom and to carry that torch — and with it the light of those fallen dreams. As we live our own dreams with honor, we can truly decorate — we truly can add honor to — the lost dreams that lie here along with the remains of those who so honorably fought for our dreams.
Truly, we best honor those who have been willing to lay down their lives and their dreams for us by making something of honor out of the lives and the very pursuit of the American dream they have given to us.
May God bless us so to do with every last breath and in pursuit of every last dream that still lies here within us.