This is Memorial Day weekend, and once again, we turn our thoughts to the men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country. It is a day of national mourning and tribute, in honor of those who bravely fought and died so that you and I can remain free.
Memorial Day was first celebrated May 30, 1868, as a result of a proclamation drafted by General John A. Logan. It was originally called "Decoration Day," and Americans were encouraged to use the occasion to lay flowers and other forms of decoration at the graves of soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. General Logan wrote,
"We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders ... Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor."
Now come with me to the United States Military Academy West Point. It's 1962 and General Douglas MacArthur, one of the greatest military heroes of all time, had returned to his beloved West Point where he'd been a cadet some 60 years before. In his time, he had led our armed forces to victory in World War I, World War II and Korea, earning his reputation, in the words of former President Herbert Hoover, as "one of the world's outstanding military commanders," and "a statesman for peace."
By 1962, MacArthur was an old man. The shadows were lengthening in the twilight of his life. He'd come to West Point to say goodbye. His moving speech to the cadets on that day was entitled, "Duty, Honor, Country."
MacArthur said to the cadets, these three things, "are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."
The General went on to talk about the spiritual nature of the sacrifice of the warrior and a reliance on God.
"The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training — sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help, which alone can sustain him."
He ended his speech with these stirring words, which I find deeply meaningful:
"In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.
"Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
"Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps and The Corps."
General Douglas MacArthur died April 5, 1964. It seems fitting that we who enjoy the sweet benefits of freedom pause as we celebrate Memorial Day to honor him and all those soldiers, sailors, and airmen who paid the ultimate price by laying down their lives in defense of duty, honor, country.
This Memorial Day, may I suggest that each of us fly the American flag at our house. Plant it at a service member's grave, send a card to his or her loved ones, and help support the families of those who made the supreme sacrifice.
America is a wonderful country — but she is wounded today. Her future is in jeopardy. Pray for God's mercy that as a nation, we might remain, in the words of former President Ronald Reagan, a shining city upon a hill, a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace — a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity."
God bless America, home of the brave and land of the free.