me·mo·ri·al (m -môr - l, -m r -). n. 1. Something, such as a monument or holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.
This weekend, as you go about your life, enjoy your picnics and barbecues, or enjoy the beach, a baseball game, or the spectacle of drivers zooming around in amazing cars, make some nodding effort to celebrate and honor those who died giving you that opportunity.
This is not my day, or my brothers', or my nephew's, or my uncle's, or my father's, nor even my grandfather's.
We all served, in Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, during World War Two, at Chosin, Da Nang, Dong Ha, the Fulda Gap, and the DMZ; but we all returned home, and went about our lives. So did most of the men who ever served. We're glad if any appreciate our service, let alone think to mumble out their thanks, whether kneejerk or heartfelt, but such sentiments, however well-intentioned, are not for us at this moment. This is not our day.
Today belongs to the fallen. For the guy who was felled on a stockade in a colonial watch at Jamestown or Plymouth. For someone, even now, who just drove down an Afghani road and entered a maelstrom of fire and flames and screaming and emerged into Eternity in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, and the beat of a heart, and neither departed on his journey nor arrived from it alone.
And to every one of his brothers and sisters in between the first instance and the latest, across time and space, who joined the most magnificent, most praiseworthy, most truly spectacular Honor Guard ever seen in the history of the world, belongs this day.
All of us didn't serve in the military, and even of those of us who did, most of us didn't give our lives in the effort. But whether we served or not, those who did and who laid that ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of our freedom and continued existence as a people deserve our daily respect, our annual celebration, and our eternal gratitude. They selflessly paid forward a benefit that we can never repay, and banked deposits on account that we must never withdraw, never deplete, and never wipe from their ledgers, or our own humble reckoning.
We live and move and have our being in a freedom purchased at the price of men unafraid to stand up to tyranny, unashamed to stand up and be counted, unable to let their comrades, their people, and their ideals down, and always willing to carry our flag, our beliefs, our own holy ideals of freedom and justice, a little farther onto the beach, up the hill, and across the field of battle, despite the loss of those who had fallen to their left and their right.
Those of their brothers in arms who were still standing afterwards spawned the next generation, and remembered the strife and glory the fallen had earned with every footstep onward, every battle won, and every foe conquered, like girders and planks and strands of cable in a bridge that stretches from the dawning of our nation to today.
They were supremely committed to what is best among us, what has made us great, and what will keep us great, as long as we are willing to follow in their footsteps. And to always, always, always remember those who couldn't come to where we are, and can't go to where we're headed, as individuals and as a nation. Because the only reason we are who we are, where we are, is because we were carried here by those who dared to keep evil at bay, march into its lair and destroy it, and even in falling in their quest, handed the flag on to us to carry forward. Just as their predecessors handed it to our brothers, our nephews, our uncles, our fathers, and our grandfathers before us, and exactly as we must pass it on to our sons and daughters.
We aren't a great nation because we have a great land. We aren't even a great nation because we have a great army, navy, or military might, or vast hordes of people dedicated to serving in each. We are a great people because we won't be anything less, and because we were raised by those who wouldn't settle for anything less. And because both we and they remember those who wouldn't give anything less than all they had, to preserve our people, our freedom, and our spirit of liberty, to the last full measure of their devotion.
At Arlington National Cemetery, in the former rose garden of Robert E. Lee, down the road from George Washington's farm, and in sight of our nation's capitol, lie the brethren of the Tomb Of the Unknowns, where rest in honored glory, soldiers known but to God.
The rest of their neighbors for eternity, in those hallowed ranks and files at Arlington and a hundred other cemeteries, and under mud and sand and soil and surf and sea, at ten thousand other places where the vanguard of our forces have fallen, need also to rest in honored glory - known to every last single one of us.
Today, unique of all days each year, is this day we have chosen out from among all the rest, that we should honor their sacrifice, and celebrate their devotion, and ever shall.
For the fallen.