Loyalty, duty, respect, honor, selfless-service, integrity, courage: These are the values that every soldier comes to understand through Basic Training. New recruits don’t just learn these values. They come to live by them. It’s something those who serve today share with the veterans who came before them and will surely share with the generation after us. They aren’t simply advice for living well. They are virtues that prepare soldiers for their mission: defending the United States of America and our way of life from all enemies, foreign or domestic.
Ingrained in these virtues, honor, in particular, is a quality we impart to soldiers. We ask and expect soldiers to make great sacrifices, knowing that the preservation of the Republic can be a cause greater than one’s own self. The underlying premise of this training is as simple as it is profound: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends – especially in defense of our great country.
It’s no small thing. And it’s the reason we set aside this last Monday in May.
As a history student at West Point, I spent four years reflecting on those who came before me. My professors remarked that studying history at West Point is different because the history they teach is often shaped by students they taught. The expectation hung in the air: the current class was expected to continue this story.
Knowing this, it’s impossible for soldiers to escape the sense of history and duty in day-to-day life in the military. The bases they’re stationed on, the names of the ships that transport them, and the equipment they use bear the names of heroes, units, and battles that have shaped the history of our nation. Often, these stories are written in blood.
Today, I hope civilians will familiarize themselves with these stories. History books and old war movies are a start, but now that the country is opening again, consider attending a local observance and hearing the stories from those who served alongside patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice. Walk to smaller cemeteries and local memorials and read the names of individuals who died for a country they loved.
President John F. Kennedy had the right idea when he said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” My hope is that as Americans spend Memorial Day honoring the fallen, they will be inspired by them, and come to love this country and their fellow Americans with as much dedication as the men and women we honor on Memorial Day.
We are granted the opportunity every year on Memorial Day to do as President Kennedy has said. I urge everyone to take this holiday to reflect on the blessings we enjoy as Americans. Thank our nation’s fallen defenders by cherishing your blessings and finding a way to advance the cause of freedom in your community.