President Biden has set a timeline to pull American forces out of Afghanistan, where 2,312 U.S. military personnel have lost their lives. On Monday, Americans will honor the unselfish men and women who lost their lives wearing an American uniform in all of our wars. Their lives were not given in vain, because they answered the call and gave, as Abraham Lincoln said, “the last full measure of devotion” to their country.
Since the 19th century, a day in late May has been a time when Americans — some of them, anyway — put aside all the fuss and bother of daily life for a moment and think about something that isn’t easy for most of us to grasp. It’s difficult to understand the willingness of our airmen, seamen, Marines and soldiers to place themselves in mortal danger in the service of their country. Their sacrifice is what we must take time to consider and appreciate.
More than 150 years ago this month, a military order came down to place flowers on both Union and Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery. What was originally called “Decoration Day” was created, when families would go to cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones and plant flowers. And remember.
On Memorial Day 2009, President Barack Obama eloquently eulogized those who died wearing American uniforms: “If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that they were willing to sacrifice all for their country; that while they couldn’t possibly know they would be called to leave this world for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms.”
President Bill Clinton issued a proclamation 21 years ago setting a “national moment of remembrance” lasting one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Its purpose was for Americans “to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday.”
We’re lucky that America hasn’t forgotten why we have a holiday to honor those who have died. As President George H.W. Bush said on Memorial Day 1992, “Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.”