Every Memorial Day there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of columns and articles written about the holiday, including many on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America is the primary reason, of course. But the overarching understanding that every American should take from this day of burgers, beaches and relaxing is not burgers, beaches and relaxing.
It’s that the freedoms underpinning the ability to enjoy those things and so much more come with a price — and sometimes that price is the steepest one of all.
This understanding began with our Founders, who when declaring freedom from a distant tyrant in the Declaration of Independence, concluded with this solemn oath:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Many of them paid the final price in the loss of their lives to ensure freedoms for the next generation. And every generation since has needed to fight in some fashion to protect or expand those freedoms. From the Civil War to the World Wars to the Cold War, from the War of 1812 to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were many other fronts in the battle for expanded freedoms, but today is about the wars, and men and women who died in them.
All of those who died in all of America’s wars have their place in the pantheon of defending freedoms. Not all conflicts were as clearly righteous as others, but all built towards the incredible freedoms we enjoy on this Memorial Day — freedoms that would not be available without the immense sacrifice in their lost lives.
These are inordinately young men whose lives were yet ahead of them, lives they never got to live so that others could.
I think of my Dad on this day. He survived World War II, although he was scarred for life from it. He was a P51 Mustang fighter pilot. He was shot down during the Battle of the Bulge and barely survived, but got back in another Mustang and went back at it.
After every flight, he returned to base in England and there was always the strong possibility that somebody he had breakfast with that morning did not return — and would never return. Sometimes a lot of them did not return. Making friends was risky. He was willing to give his life, as were the rest who climbed in their fighters and bombers day after day and flew into the deadly skies over Germany.
Those men died that others may be free. Europe is free today in large part due to their sacrifice. The evidence is in the graves of thousands of American soldiers in the fields of France, Belgium, Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Many Asian countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia are free of tyrannical occupiers to this day because of the sacrifice of American fighters. The evidence is in the graves of thousands of Americans in the Philippines.
And of course we have military cemeteries across our nation.
We honor those who fought and died in all of our wars. We remember their sacrifice. And we remember why they died. Because freedom is not free, it is only obtained and maintained at a price.
Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
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