“The Last Full Measure of Devotion”: Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day
From: Remarks at Memorial Day Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, May 31, 1982 -- President Ronald Reagan
I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.
From: "Growing up in the wake of World War II" -- A childhood recollection by Professor Benoit Cushman-Roisin
...During summer vacations, Dad would make a detour and have us visit American cemeteries. I must confess that initially I found them boring. With all those identical crosses! After all, 'so what,' I thought, 'the war is over, and this only serves to rehash the ugly past and to delay us in reaching our holiday destination.' "Until one day, in one of those cemeteries -- this one in Luxemburg, I recall -- my father impressed on all of us children that below every cross lay a young man who had left his beloved family in America to fight in foreign soil and deliver from a wicked enemy my Belgian family who could not defend itself. "You can't go by on the road and not come in to say thank you", he added and then fell in a deep silence. Gratitude! Gratitude! This is what he was teaching me.
From: "Gettysburg Address", Nov. 19, 1863 -- President Abraham Lincoln
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
From: General Orders No. 11, Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868, a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide, and establishing the modern holiday of Memorial Day
...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 pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us. 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; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude-the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
By command of: JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief. N. P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant-General
From: "In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched With Fire" An address delivered for Memorial Day, May 30, 1884 -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march -- honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away.
But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death -- of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.