Freedom, of course, is not free. It has been bought and paid for. The freedoms we enjoy in America are ours because of those who laid down their lives in service to our country. With another Memorial Day upon us, it’s good to be reminded of the debt we owe to their sacrifice.
On Memorial Day 1982 at Arlington National Cemetery, Ronald Reagan said of those who died in service of our country: “Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, less heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves.”
Frequent, “Taps” is performed by a bugler during these Memorial Day services—often bringing a lump to the throat. There are slight variations on the words to “Taps,” but they all tend to end with the phrase “God is nigh,” that is, God is near.
Here’s a common rendition of the words for “Taps”:
“Day is done, Gone the sun,
From the lake, From the hill,
From the sky.
All is well, Safely rest,
God is nigh.”
Perhaps, as the influence of Christianity has waned in the culture, so has the commitment to patriotism. Consider some remarks from our nation’s founding.
One of our country’s great founding fathers was Rev. John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Witherspoon said in a sermon, “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men” (May 17, 1776): “It is in the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. God, grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.”
General George Washington, then the head of our armed forces, made a similar remark—and this was to his troops during the terrible winter at Valley Forge: “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to laud the more distinguished Character of Christian.”
In 1941, when FDR was president, he had a special edition of the New Testament issued to the military, by the Gideons. My dad, who served in the Navy, got one. I got to keep it after he died.
President Roosevelt wrote these words in the preface to that edition: “To the Armed Forces: As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”
It’s hard to picture such a practice today. Now, we live in what Dr. Richard Land has called “the Divided States of America.” I think that is an apt description. The late Charlton Heston once remarked, “Rank-and-file Americans wake up every morning, increasingly bewildered and confused at why their views make them lesser citizens.”
Yet Reagan once told us, “Our Nation’s motto – ‘In God We Trust’ – was not chosen lightly. It reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which this nation owes homage. Throughout our history, Americans have put their faith in God, and no one can doubt that we have been blessed for it.”
This Memorial Day, we should, if nothing else, thank the Lord for those who laid their lives on the line for us. We enjoy the freedom we enjoy because they shed their blood for us—reminiscent of the freedom the Christian enjoys because the Savior shed His blood for us at Calvary.
I like what Colin Powell said about this holiday: “All of us lead busy lives. We have little time to pause and reflect. But I ask of you: Do not hasten through Memorial Day. Take the time to remember the good souls whose memories are a blessing to you and your family. Take your children to our memorial parks and monuments. Teach them the values that lend meaning to our lives and to the life of our nation. Above all, take the time to honor our fellow Americans who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country and for the freedoms we cherish.”