Memorial Day evolved from a simple, loving act from a small group of Mississippi women. These ladies chose to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers by decorating their graves. While doing so, they noticed Union Soldiers’ graves in the same cemetery were neglected. These ladies could not ignore the tragedy of heroes forgotten. They decorated the graves of all the silent warriors in that cemetery so that a visitor could not distinguish Union from Confederate.
A New York Tribune correspondent wrote of this kind and tender act. The small but profound honor bestowed upon the heroes of both Blue and Grey by these ladies from Mississippi was the foundation for Decoration Day, a memorial event that eventually grew into the national holiday we now commemorate each year.
On Memorial Day we fly the nation’s colors at half staff, we place flowers and flags at gravesites, and we speak words of gratitude. We offer these tokens as compensation on a debt paid by others in blood. I Thank you for joining us here today in order to pay tribute to America’s fallen heroes.
In today’s busy, multimedia and instant information world we often lose the clarity of our past. Some of us no longer identify heroism with the label of hero. Instead, we may confuse athletic or musical talent with heroism. We may mislabel a wonderfully positive role model as a hero. Our materialist culture sometimes seems to be confused about what a hero even is.
Washington Irving noted the apparent nature of man to trivialize heroism when he wrote, “The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection.” Simply put, swatting a ball over a fence may be a spectacular sight, but it is not a heroic act.
No sacrifice, no heroism; no courage, no hero! If there is not a nobility of action and purpose, something those in military uniform know as duty, it cannot be heroic. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it beautifully and clear, “The hero is not fed on sweets, Daily his own heart he eats.”
I am not sure why we sometimes have so much difficulty seeing true heroes. They are all around us. Parents sacrifice leisure for the responsibility of raising strong families. Fire fighters and police officers risk their lives to safeguard ours. And, of course, America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines fight our wars so that we need not fear the tyrant.
Your town has provided more than its share of heroes to our country. Your families and neighbors have shared in the pain and the sacrifice required to secure our liberty.
The town of Shirley bade farewell to 336 of its finest citizens during World War II. Shirley sent 46 of her neighbors into deadly combat during the Korean Conflict, and 58 during Viet Nam. Residents from Shirley have served in every conflict since the Second World War. Dozens have sacrificed their futures in order that we may enjoy ours.
These heroes walked the same streets you now drive. They ate and shopped in some of the same establishments that still serve your community today. They are buried in sacred ground near battlefields where they breathed their last, and in cemeteries here in town.
Our freedom has been paid for with the blood of hundreds of thousands of heroes. And, as noted by Abraham Lincoln, “Any Nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”
I ask you all on Memorial Day tomorrow to reserve a brief moment of time — shared with your family and friends — to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the men and women of the Armed Forces, which provide us all the opportunity to enjoy life in this great nation of ours.
Thank you, and God Bless America.