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Memorial Day: Remembering America’s Fallen Heroes

by Sydney Alix

“Freedom is not free.” -Ronald Reagan

Memorial Day is seen by millions of Americans across our nation as the official start of summer, and is is frequently celebrated by many with barbecues, family get-togethers, gatherings with friends, and enjoyment of outdoor activities. In other cases, it is just an extended weekend, yet another holiday that provides a reprieve from work and day to day life, and gives an excuse to party and enjoy “living it up.” In either case, we can often become so preoccupied with our festivities that we forget to remember the reason for this holiday, or the true meaning and significance of Memorial Day, and what it is we are truly celebrating.

The origins of Memorial Day date back to May 30, 1868, when it was first nationally observed at the Arlington National Cemetery in remembrance of the fallen of the Civil War. It was formally known as Decoration Day, as Americans around the country visited cemeteries to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, flags, and the like, and held parades in their honor. By 1971, Memorial Day was officially established as a federal holiday, and set aside as a day to remember and commemorate the lives of all American servicemen who have given their lives in service to their country (L.O.C.).

It is hard to even fathom the full weight of the sacrifice that was made by so many for our freedom over the course of our nation’s history, from its founding to date.

During the 8-year long Revolutionary War (1775-1783), when our founding fathers were embroiled in the struggle for our nation’s liberty and independence, over 25,000 American soldiers perished out of a total population of only 2.5 million, leaving a devastating impact on the struggling young nation. While only approximately 27% died in battle, a vast number of troops died of diseases, and many others languished and died under horrible conditions as prisoners of war (Kiger, P.). Despite being heavily overwhelmed, and facing seemingly insurmountable odds, they were at last able to win complete victory, and establish a new and free America.

The War of 1812 (1812-1815), aka, the “Second War of Independence” (A.B.T.), saw our newly established country engaged once again in war with Great Britain (which began after the British attempted to infiltrate the US banking system, and later seized American ships and goods, forcibly impressed American sailors into the British navy, and even incited and supported certain Indian tribes to massacre American settlements (Federer, B.)). America was ultimately able to defeat the British’s second attempt upon her sovereignty, but that victory came at a high price, and it is estimated to have cost the lives of over 15,000 Americans (A.B.T.).

The American Civil War (1861-1865) saw America torn asunder in a conflict that would finally determine whether the principles she was founded upon — that, “All men are created equal…”, was a truth or a mockery, and if the God-given inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness would be recognized and upheld for all Americans, regardless of skin color or race. This sad chapter in our nation’s history became the most costly and deadly war fought on American soil in US history, and resulted in the death of over 620,000 American soldiers (History.com).

Fast forward to the 20th century, after experiencing unprecedented successes and hardships alike, America would become embroiled in two world wars that would rock the entire globe, WWI (1914-1918), and WWII (1939-1945), facing and ultimately triumphing over foes that sought to bring the whole world under their submission, and who threatened to put an end to the precious life of freedom that so many had sacrificed for, and given their all to secure. WWI would claim the lives of over 53,000 U.S. servicemen in combat (L.O.C.), while WWII, the largest and most deadly war in human history cost the lives of approximately 407,300 American soldiers, sailors, and marines (W.P.R.).

Following the World Wars were the Korean War (1950-1953), which took the lives of nearly 40,000 US soldiers (History.com), and the Vietnam War (1959-1975), resulting in the loss of over 58,220 American servicemen (Stilwell, B.).

In our own 21st century, over 7,000 US soldiers have been killed in combat since the attacks on 9/11 (W.I.) during conflicts in the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, etc., and many continue to give their lives in service to our country to this very day (Gilligan, C.).

When we stop to seriously ponder the totality of the sacrifice that has been made by American soldiers throughout the history of our nation — the hundreds of thousands of American patriots who were willing to lay down their lives so that we might be free — the reality and gravity of the true cost of freedom can be almost overwhelming. These noble and brave American heroes were just normal, everyday American citizens like you and me. Many of them were very young, and full of life, with dreams, aspirations, and wonderful futures ahead of them. Their families, whether it was their immediate family or their own, were undoubtably precious to them, and dearly loved. Yet, they were willing to give it all up — for us! Why? Because they knew that to preserve what they loved and cherished, they must be willing to do their duty to stand against evil and tyranny, even if doing so could cost them their lives.

It is thanks to the great sacrifice of these courageous Patriots throughout the history of America that we are blessed with such a beautiful country, and have the ability to enjoy living a life of freedom which no other nation on the globe has been able to achieve or experience. Though we have been blessed beyond measure, we sadly don’t often truly appreciate what we have been given, or remember to be grateful to those who have made our way of life possible. On this Memorial Day, as we take part in celebrations and festivities with family and friends, let us each take the time to remember and thank God for the brave men and women who gave their lives for us and for our freedom, and who paid the ultimate price that enables us to even celebrate this day in the first place.

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.'”

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