The True Meaning of Memorial Day

The phrase, “freedom isn’t free” is a familiar saying, reminding Americans that defending freedom comes with a steep cost to many who pledge their lives in defense of liberty.


Referring to Memorial Day as a holiday diminishes its solemnity. The current health crisis, subsequent economic shutdown, and social distancing guidelines presents an opportunity to pause, and recognize the ultimate sacrifice Americans have made in the name of, freedom.

Memorial Day means different things to different people. Some Americans celebrate the day as a kickoff to summer. Members of the military and veterans reflect on the eternal bond with their brothers and sisters-in-arms. For Gold Star families, it is day to mourn their lost loved ones. For other Americans, it’s a day to adorn the graves of those lost in battle. It is a grateful nation that chooses to honor and give thanks to the brave who stood between tyranny and liberty.

Since the first Memorial Day, the purpose of the holiday was to eulogize the fallen, and to reaffirm the commitment to defend the Constitution.

Fallen service members bequeath their mission to defend the Constitution, to pass from generation-to-generation.

Honoring them isn’t to remember how they died for their country, but to remember them for how they dedicated their lives in defense of freedom. President Abraham Lincoln saw beyond the battlefields and a fractured nation during America’s most deadly war. The most honorable thing a grateful nation can do to show its gratitude to the fallen, is to dedicate itself to protecting the freedoms that those who sacrificed their lives to defend it.

When Lincoln visited, Gettysburg following the horrific battle, he went with the purpose of consecrating the “hallow ground” and to memorialize those lost. The speech underscored the way to honor the fallen, was for the living to rededicate themselves to the noble cause of preserving liberty.

Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) was officially declared May 30, 1868, nearly five years after Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Major General John Logan established the day of remembrance to give thanks to the fallen. Until World War I, Decoration Day was dedicated to the memory of those who died fighting in the Civil War. After WWI, the day was expanded to honor the fallen of all American Wars. In 1971, Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day, and was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. Following similar federal holidays, Memorial Day was designated to be observed on the last Monday of May.

Decoration Day/Memorial Day has always honored the memories of those who died in battle. The enemies fluctuate, the weaponry has progressed and the art of war has become sophisticated. The ultimate goal, to preserve freedom has transcended throughout two centuries.

Throughout the Mall in Washington, DC, there are memorials dedicated to nearly every major American war in history. The memorials honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are great reminders for future generations that freedom and liberty are causes worthy of dying to defend.

Men and women who have died protecting freedom, are owed a grateful nation’s eternal gratitude, respect and commitment to honor their lives by guarding the liberties they gave their lives to protect. As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address, “these dead shall not have died in vain,” each one of their lives mattered, and their sacrifice to this country mattered. Over a million Americans have died in battle defending this county since the Revolutionary War. It’s impossible to remember all the names, ages, hometowns, the families they left behind or their aspirations; but, we remember what they lived and died for on our behalf.

Memorial Day isn’t about memorializing the dead. It’s to honor their courage and commitment to be willing to give up their lives for millions of Americans they would never know; while, at peace with the knowledge future generations of Americans may live free. Memorial Day is America’s annual vow renewal to protect freedom and liberty. It is a promise to those who died at the altar of freedom to never neglect, nor destroy the priceless gift of freedom.

The following are memorable quotes to reflect on the importance of honoring fallen Americans:


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