May 26, 2000
By Bishop David R. Brown
More than 1 million men and women have lost their lives fighting for freedom in the U.S. armed forces. We can never reimburse the price they paid. We can summons no words to allay the pain of their loved ones. We can, and we should honor America's war dead on Memorial Day.
We, as beneficiaries of America's departed heroes, should make three pledges on Memorial Day to ensure that the Supreme Sacrifice of our nation's war dead never will be in vain.
The first pledge we should make is to fly the U.S. Flag and to participate in our community's commemorative events. America's patriots shed their blood in defense of our nation's core values of freedom, justice and equality as well as the U.S. Flag that symbolizes our values. Memorial Day should unify all Americans in solemn tribute to those who did not come marching home and to consecrate the principles for which they fought.
The second pledge we should make is to teach our children and grandchildren that the freedoms they may take for granted were purchased by incredible sacrifice. When we lead by example, by bringing our children and grandchildren with us to Memorial Day public observations, we teach the leaders of tomorrow that freedom is not free.
The third pledge is to participate in our democracy in order to give patriots-present the best opportunity to triumph against evil. Today's troops form the light of hope that pierces the darkness of tyranny, but that light is growing dim due to inadequate military spending and foolhardy defense policy. Safeguarding the bounty of 1 million war dead is a military that is smarting from a 300 percent increase in deployments and a one-third decrease in active-duty strength since 1987. This is a military receiving fewer tax dollars, as a percentage of gross domestic product, that the military that suffered the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
We must act as if Memorial Day 2000 is Dec. 6, 1941; as if "We the People" have an opportunity to deter aggression, save lives, and give our men and women in uniform a fighting chance. We must demand that our congressional representatives and our president reverse the declining readiness of the armed forces. Our telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and letters to Congress and to the White House can reverse the neglect that erodes our military, threatens national security, and endangers the values for which Americans gave their lives.
These contemporary pledges flow from the earliest traditions of Memorial Day. Southern women in the spring of 1865 planted flowers on the graves of Confederate war dead. Gen. John Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, ordered his group to decorate the graves of Union troops on a uniform date in 1868. These and other commemorations would give rise to the first national Memorial Day observance on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. James Garfield, keynote speaker for the observance, said those who lost their lives fighting for freedom engaged in the ultimate expression of humanity's "highest virtues." The general was right!
More than 1 million men and women, preponderantly of modest means and infinite courage, sacrificed all of their tomorrow while fighting for America's unifying "virtues." Surely we can honor their sacrifice, transmit the valves for which they fought, and preserve the "common defense" that is liberty's backbone. By our vigilance, the sacrifices of America's departed heroes shall never be in vain.
Bishop David R. Brown is national chaplain of the 2.8-million member of American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization.