Why I Honor Memorial Day

“Courage, of all national qualities, is the most precarious; because it is exerted only at intervals, and by a few in every nation” wrote David Hume. It takes courage to risk life and limb for our state and country. Norman Schwarzkopf said “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

It is fitting then, that we set aside a day to remember those who have given their lives in service for our country. The least we can do as a nation is to honor these heroes. These brave few who became legends meeting their end on a battlefield, fighting our nation’s enemies.

According to the book Roster of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Tennessee, there are about 4,500 veterans of the American Revolution interred in Tennessee.

One is my 4th great-grandfather, Colonel James Taylor, who is buried at Centenary Baptist Church in Blount County, Tennessee. Fortunately, he was able to come home and raise a family. A privilege that was denied to many.

The first casualty of the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks. He was killed during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. Attucks was believed to be the son of a slave and a Native American woman. As hostilities intensified between the colonists and British soldiers, the British confronted a group of unruly colonists by opening fire and killing five men including Attucks, who was the first to die. In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praised Attucks for his part in American history. It is worth noting that Attucks was displayed with the others at Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state. The men were then entombed in a common sepulcher. There was no segregation for Patriots.

Traditionally, Americans observed Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials of our fallen war heroes. In recent years, it has become more of a party celebrating the launch of summer, thus losing the original purpose and meaning. I think we must remind ourselves to honor those courageous men and women who have served and then given their lives for the cause of freedom. Freedom cannot guarantee a meaningful life, merely the possibility of having one. To keep that possibility, we need to embrace and strengthen freedom. It was Thomas Jefferson who reminded us: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

We need to take a minute to THANK those veterans who gave their lives so we Americans can enjoy our liberty. Life is so precious. No doubt those who made the ultimate sacrifice had their hopes and dreams as well for our country. We should also ask our politicians to remember those veterans who made it back and ensure that they get the benefits they were promised, and the highest quality medical care available—including mental health.

Thomas Smith wrote one of the best tributes to those who died for our nation: “This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. God Bless America and All Veterans.” I remember their sacrifice. George Patton added: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” That is why I honor Memorial Day.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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