Here in America, the day is called Memorial Day. The practice sprang up after the end of the (un)Civil War. Exactly where and when is disputed. Columbus, Georgia; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Lynchburg, Virginia; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; and Charleston, South Carolina claim to be the birth place of the event.
In 1967, President Johnson issued a resolution officially naming Waterloo, N.Y., as “the birthplace of Memorial Day.”
Memorial Day is a holiday without meaning for some. For others, it is pregnant with memories of people and the principles they died to perpetuate. It is appropriate that our nation should pause and pay tribute to those who paid all for us.
Memorials have been used through the ages to keep alive the memories of people, places and events. In antiquity, the Jews set aside days to commemorate the deliverance of their ancestors from Egyptian slavery. In establishing the Passover, it was said, “This day shall be to you a memorial ...” (Exodus 12: 14).
They established a memorial to the meaningful moment they entered the land of promise. Upon crossing the Jordan, Joshua had a stone memorial established that those to come after them might ask their meaning and be told the story of their triumph.
Our predecessors knew of the expediency of our nation remembering, relishing and returning to virtues and values. Memorial Day was intended to be a day when our nation pauses to pay tribute to those who died in service to our country. Most persons have forgotten the purpose and simply enjoy a day off. Rudyard Kipling said, “Lord of host, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget.”
It is fitting our nation should pause to remember the countless sons and daughters who at great sacrifice served our country. Consider the score of those who paid the ultimate price in our wars.
French and Indian War: 2,789
War of 1812: 2,260
Revolutionary War: 25,324
Civil War: 498,334
Spanish American War: 2,446
World War I: 116,710
World War II: 407,376
Korean War: 54,546
Vietnam War: 58,098
Persian Gulf War: 146
Iraq War: 4,486
Not only is it appropriate to remember the people who died to preserve our nation, but also the principles they died to preserve.
Distinguished historian Arnold Toynbee wrote of 19 great civilizations that have existed. Observing spiritual currents running through civilizations, he concluded “no major nation has been murdered. They have committed suicide. They forgot the true purpose of the being, and rotted on the inside.”
You can’t forget something you never knew any more than you can go back some place you have never been. Recent generations in America have been reared without knowing most of the good part of our national heritage.
It is nearly impossible to find a public school textbook with a positive reference to God or the Bible. So, bereft of our early history, few youth know who said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Churches have failed in their role as educational institutions to the point it is estimated 75 percent of today’s youth have no Christian memory. These are signs of national suicidal tendencies.
“Lord of host, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget.”
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.