A Debt of Gratitude

Tim Richards   -  

A Debt of Gratitude

Next Monday, the United States will officially observe Memorial Day for the 156th time. There were occasions before May 30, 1868, when citizens in both the North and South paused to honor those who died during the Civil War. By 1890, every Union state officially observed the day. Most Southern states did as well, but on different dates, and their time of remembrance was called Confederate Memorial Day.

In its early days, Memorial Day, then known as Decoration Day, was a solemn occasion when soldiers’ graves were adorned with flowers. Over time, the day’s significance expanded beyond the Civil War and encompassed all wars. World War I marked a pivotal shift, and the title, Memorial Day, gained widespread use after World War II. This day, set aside to honor our war dead, is not just a tradition, but a deeply significant and solemn act of remembrance.

Few realize how many Americans have died fighting for their country. According to Wikipedia, roughly 2,853,000 US soldiers have either died or been wounded in action, with about 1,350,000 of those making the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. That remarkable number is about the same as the current population of Mississippi.

Remembering those who made significant sacrifices for our freedom is not a formality but a profound act of gratitude. By reminding ourselves of the sacrifices of others— we guard against the complacency of not being grateful for our current blessings. It is too easy to overlook the past if we do not set aside a day to reflect on the sacrifices that shape our present lives.

In his renowned work, The Life of Reason, Author George Santayana penned this timeless line: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote underscores the vital importance of learning from history, a fundamental aspect of Memorial Day. From a slightly different perspective, the Bible teaches us to never forget what God has done and to remember the deeds of others. “Read up on what happened before you were born; dig into the past, understand your roots. Ask your parents what it was like before you were born; ask the old-ones, they’ll tell you a thing or two.” (Deuteronomy 32:7, The Message) This wisdom reminds us to appreciate and respect the sacrifices of our soldiers, and to learn from their history.

While we live in the present, we must never forget the past. Only as we make it a point to think about how much others have done to protect us and our country will we have the proper appreciation for those whose sacrifices have paved the way for the blessings we enjoy. When we fail to take seriously what others have done for us, we will neither be grateful for our present blessings nor thankful to those who make those blessings possible. Every American owes a debt of gratitude to these brave men and women, and Memorial Day is a day to honor that debt.