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.
These monuments of stone and steel cry out for remembrance. They call to us: remember the fallen. Remember the sacrifice. Remember those who gave everything, even up to their very lives. Remember those who answered the call, some willingly, some grudgingly, but all faithfully.
As we approach Memorial Day, I am reminded of the Gettysburg Address. We had to memorize it in elementary school, we know the stories of President Lincoln writing it on a top hat on the train on his way to the event. Of how the headlining speaker before him talked for two hours, and he talked for two minutes, and we remember the shorter speech.
All across our country, from the Nation’s Capitol to the smallest towns, there are military service memorials. Some are simple, some are elaborate, all are necessary. They are there, as Lincoln told us, to be dedicated for those that gave their lives so that a nation may live.
And, what he said then is true today: 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.
At the same time, these monuments, these memorials, will never be enough. They will never come close to honoring even a fraction of the sacrifice that was made. That does not mean they are futile…it means that the sacrifice was so great, that no amount of honor could do it justice. No wall of names we can erect, no symbols, no statue can fully describe the measure of sacrifice, the pain of loss, and the pride of service that these monuments represent.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t visit them, see them, touch them. That we shouldn’t seek them out. For if we stop, then their sacrifice will fade, the importance of their deeds will go unknown. Regardless of how we feel about the wars they fought, their sacrifice should be honored and remembered. I hate war, too…but love and respect those who answered the call. I recognize that war is an extension of politics by other means, as Von Clauswitz said; but I also recognize that this extension comes with a heavy price, and that price must be paid. Those memorialized in monuments across our nation are the ones who paid the price so we didn’t have to.
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
At the time of the Gettysburg Address, America was in it’s youth. The knots and tangles of the Constitution that could not be massaged or removed through politics had exploded into violence. Everyone who died on the Gettysburg battlefield was a countryman of Abraham Lincoln, and I can imagine the enormous pain and sadness he must have felt. The work that was being done to keep this country together was equal in measure to the work that was done to tear this country apart, each side struggling to seize the rights and respect that they felt they deserved. Those who fell in this struggle did not complete this work, only advanced it so that others may complete it.
These memorials remind us: do not go down that path again. Whatever knots, whatever tangles, whatever rights and respect and positions and ideology that we feel must be thrust upon each other can and should be resolved without the need for future memorials. It is to us to continue this work, today, in their name. In their honor. With respect and appreciation for their sacrifice. We are unable to do that if we do not take the time to reflect on their sacrifice.
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
We do have a great task before us: living. Building a better future for each other, for our children. For the children of the fallen, and the children of those who might have fallen but returned. The causes that each service member sacrificed for was so numerous, that any good thing we dedicate ourselves to is one to be honored. They sacrificed for each other. They sacrificed for their families. For their country. Many veterans, including myself, found it an honor to serve so that others would not have to. I served so that my children did not have to. If they choose to do so, then so be it; I will honor them, and pray that they do not pay the ultimate sacrifice.
On this Memorial Day, consider the gravity of the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve our way of life. It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty, but it’s ours, and we love it. Like a child slowly realizing the effort that their parents made to provide shelter, food, and a good life, we should take the time to realize the cost of what we have. Money…and Freedom…doesn’t grow on trees.
Take some time to visit a local memorial. Trace the names on the walls with your finger. Reflect on the immensity of the cost, not just for that name, but for everyone associated with that name: family, friends, and now you. Standing silently, considering the cost.
The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!