Memorial Day has taken on many different meanings in my life. I first remember being aware of it as the day off school in the spring with all the war movies on. Those are fond childhood memories with my dad I will always cherish. As an adult in my mid-twenties, Memorial Day was the backdrop for an almost normal day punctuated by mortar fire. Now that I have transitioned out of service, Memorial Day is a reminder that a many great men and women have paid the ultimate price for the "proposition that all men are created equal.”
Memorial Day is a dedication to the over one million men and women who have given their lives to this country. Decoration Day was first proposed by Union General John A. Logan in 1868 as a way of honoring the dead of the Civil War. Soon the tradition spread, and by the end of the First World War, Decoration Day (May 30th) was a de facto national holiday. It wasn’t until 1968 that it was established as an official federal holiday on the last Monday of May.
The sacrifice of previous generations inspires the men and women that serve this country today. This country like its individual citizens is not perfect. Our forebearers did believe however in that more perfect union and gave their last full measure of devotion to the unfinished work they so nobly advanced. It is for us here today to carry on this work and to honor our dead.
The sacrifice of this generation has inspired me to continue to serve. War can have the effect of emphasizing the fragile and fleeting nature of the human condition like no other. It has caused me to be truly thankful to be alive, and to savor the moments that matter. It has caused me to accept that my service continues today. I have needed my brothers downrange to survive, and I have needed them even more since coming home. Memorial Day allows me to remember the ones that I could rely on when I needed them. Memorial Day is a reminder that this experiment in democracy comes at a terrible cost that we all must pay.
This Memorial Day I invite you to reflect on these men and women that their dedication might inspire the very best in all of us. May it remind us of the very best in us, and that we can face the uncertainty of the future as our brothers and sisters faced the uncertainty of the past. The country for which these men and women gave their lives wasn’t perfect, just as it is less than perfect today. President Lincoln said that "it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” It is rather for us the living to honor them by remembering them this Memorial Day.
-Andrew Harris, USA Ret.