Memorial Day: Honoring the Lives Lost Defending Our Country

During the first national celebration of Memorial Day on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, then-Congressman and future president James A. Garfield spoke poignant words: “If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of 15,000 men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung … For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue”.[1]

Five years later, in 1873, New York was the first state to make Memorial Day a holiday.[2] Today, it’s still celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery, with a small American flag placed on each soldier’s grave and a wreath laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.[3] But as we partake in our own celebrations here at home, attending barbecues with family and friends and lining up on the sidewalk for local parades, we must not forget what the holiday actually represents or overlook the hard-fought battles that helped secure this nation’s principles. From our early foundations to the present, servicemen and servicewomen work day in and day out to protect our rights, values and the American way of life.

Here in New York State, there are over 800,000 veterans living today who served as far back as World War II.[4] While these brave men and women survived the harrowing circumstances of war and service, they had to leave behind fellow soldiers lost on the battlefield whose families sadly never got the chance to welcome them home. Memorial Day honors those courageous fallen soldiers and the unmeasurable sacrifices they made to keep us safe. Their sacrifice was not lost in vain as we enjoy the freedoms they fought for that we call America and it is my hope that those sacrifices are not lost by each and every one of us respecting the freedoms we enjoy today.

Memorial Day is more than a chance to get outside and celebrate the coming summer – it’s a time to acknowledge the heroes who sacrificed their lives for their love of this country. It also serves as a reminder to all of us that we are so fortunate here in America to enjoy the freedoms that many have fought for in the past. The question we should ask ourselves is what am I doing to honor the remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives for others?

One way this weekend we can honor those who have passed is to share the importance of Memorial Day with our children and grandchildren. Share with them why this weekend is more than barbeques and picnics. Secondly and most importantly, let us commit to daily conduct ourselves under the guiding principles of our constitution. By that I mean we understand our rights, exercise our rights and also respect the fact that others to have those rights as well.

In today’s fast paced world we are quick to react to what someone says or does and at times the conversation can be chaotic or caustic. What is often lamented today and as an elected official I am reminded of this daily is that in some way we have lost our ability to be civil. The lack of civility leads to maybe big broad headlines but also leads to decision makers talking past each other instead of to each other. This further deters our ability to address individuals concerns and that is why I feel a concerted effort for all of us to reinstate civility and respect for our fellow Americans would be the best way to honor the sacrifices of those that have laid their lives on the line for our freedoms we enjoy today.




[3] Ibid.