It’s Memorial Day here in the USA. We enjoyed our annual local parade with the high school marching band, the VFW, mounted police, emergency vehicles with sirens blaring, an active soldier who was the grand marshall, one lonely politician decked out in his politician-style jeans and long sleeved red shirt (on a really hot day), lots of Little League teams with candy flying in every direction, the Amercian flag many times, and our church’s float that replicated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s the unofficial beginning of summer so the barbecues are going, the swimming pools are open, the radios are blaring, and the parties are just getting started.
But what we celebrate today is not the launch of summer fun. Today we remember sacrifice. Today we remember true heroism. We enjoy many freedoms in this nation and it’s worth remembering why we have those freedoms. As much as politicians like to accept the credit, they didn’t secure these freedoms. Pop stars and athletes didn’t secure these freedoms for us. It wasn’t academia, that has all kinds of theories about what freedom is and isn’t and who ought to have and who shouldn’t, that did the necessary deed to give themselves those very freedoms. It wasn’t entrepreneurs with innovative business plans, nor was it preachers across the land lauding the gift of freedom. No, it wasn’t any of these. It was men and women like my Uncle Stanley Geraldson who died on October 10, 1944 when his bomber was hit by an aerial burst bomb while on a mission and crashed in Borneo. If you want to genuinely celebrate your freedom and thank those who actually secured it, go the the cemeteries and look at the markers decorated with American flags. Go to the VA hospitals and see the wounded soldiers. Look at those who fought for freedom and lived to talk about it, men like my dad who served in the South Pacific, and Frank Valentine (a member of my church) was fought in Europe and was awarded a Purple Heart. They’re the ones who made our freedoms possible. They’re the ones who left home and family, literally risking all for the cause of defending freedom.
The words that Abraham Lincoln spoke in his Gettysburg Address apply not just to the soldiers of the Civil War, but to all who have fallen in battle for the securing and sustaining of our freedoms. He called them “these honored dead” from whom “we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” He continued with the exhortation that the only appropriate response to their ultimate sacrifice was that we “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, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
How our nation needs “a new birth of freedom” and an accompanying appreciation for the responsibility attached to it. May we not waste our freedoms on trite and selfish pursuits. This freedom cost dearly, and it is a price few of us have had to pay. We have it at others’ expense. Honor them and their sacrifice by wisely using what they’ve given.
It bugs me when people take credit for what others have done. So today, don’t thank the politicians for your freedom. Don’t thank the rock stars or the ball players. Don’t thank the professors or the preachers. Thank the soldiers. But above all, thank God.