By Barbara Latta, Crosswalk.com
The Lord called for memorials and celebrations to occur on multiple occasions throughout history. Joshua commanded a member of each tribe to take a stone and set it up on the banks of the Jordan River after they crossed to recognize their victory in entering the Promised Land.
Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever. (Joshua 4: 5-7 NIV)
When the Jews were saved from annihilation during the time of Esther, they proclaimed a remembrance to continue throughout all generations so that none would forget the miraculous way God saved their populace.
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants. (Esther 9:28)
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden
Why We Celebrate Memorial Day
Remembering people who have sacrificed to save others is essential to our dignity as human beings. How can we treasure what was purchased for us if we refuse to pay tribute to what they did?
The Civil War cost more American lives than any conflict in the history of this land. After the war, the first national cemeteries were established to hallow the dead. President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the field at Gettysburg with heartfelt words that have grown into a motto to describe America as the government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
In the following years, organizations in various towns came together to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers by decorating their graves to make sure they were not forgotten. At the close of the 19th century, the efforts of caring individuals grew into a widespread tribute known as Decoration Day. Some southern states still observed the memorial on different dates until after World War I.
Later, Decoration Day came to be known as Memorial Day. The date in May was chosen because it was not associated with the proclamation of any war. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day an official holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.
The Difference between Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Armed Forces Day
We observe three separate dates to recognize our military heroes. Sometimes the meaning behind the observances gets misconstrued with each other.
Memorial Day is set aside to revere those who died in battle serving their country.
Veteran’s Day is a time to give thanks to all who have or are presently serving in the military.
Armed Forces Day marks the combination of all armed forces into one unit under the Department of Defense and is also celebrated in May.
How can we pay tribute to our heroes who have given their all to make sure present and future generations live free of tyranny?
These 7 ways can honor our fallen service members on Memorial Day.
1. Visit Memorial Battlefields and Re-enactments
Historical re-enactments are the closest thing to reality we can experience to learn what happened in times past. While these productions cannot replay the tragedy and horror the loss of life brings, we do get a taste of the sights and sounds of arms firing and the scent of gunpowder in the air.
Cannon reverberations across the ground give us the feel of a battleground. Soldiers yelling orders, horses running, and swords clashing can transport us back in time.
Together they will be like warriors in battle trampling their enemy into the mud of the streets. They will fight because the Lord is with them, and they will put the enemy horsemen to shame. (Zechariah 10:5)
2. Pay Respects at National Cemeteries
There are 155 national cemeteries across America. If we reside near any one of these hallowed grounds, a visit to regard the sacrifices of those whose bodies lie beneath the grass would be an appropriate way to pay homage on Memorial Day. Many of these gravesites also host museums for visitors to obtain in-depth information about battles fought and heroic acts performed.
Recently, my husband and I visited the Military History Museum on Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Seeing the artifacts and reading about the hardships soldiers encountered is an emotional experience. Photos of Medal of Honor recipients frame the walls as a reminder of the actions initiated by brave men to save their comrades or civilians.
Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8)
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Serdjo Photo
3. Leave the Legacy of Remembering
Find resources that teach the truth about history to our kids. Without knowledge of why our military needs to encounter enemies, they will not appreciate the freedom we have as Americans.
Books and age-appropriate videos of how youth in other countries are forced to live can help them appreciate toys, games, and food. Some time without a few conveniences and pleasures could help re-enforce the hardship others bear because of lack of freedom.
God told the Israelites to teach their children His precepts every day. To repeat His Word in the morning and in the evening. Our descendants should be taught the Word of God and the reason we, as Americans, have the liberties we have. God has blessed us a nation because of our obedience to His precepts.
Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:19)
4. Visit or Send a Message to the Family of a Fallen Service Member
Fallen service members who died long ago may have been forgotten by all but their immediate families. If we know of someone who lost a loved one during hostilities, we could present a memento of their service as a gift to their family.
How special this would be to the next of kin to know that someone else respects and treasures the service their loved one gave to our country.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
5. Dignify Our National Anthem and Flag
Our flag displays our republic’s character. Thirteen ribbons of color show us the colonies who fought for independence. The red stripes represent hardiness and valor, the white innocence and purity. These are the very virtues soldiers, sailors, and airmen enter battles to defend.
Many fly our red, white, and blue banner all year, but we should especially laud those who died to preserve the meaning of the flag on Memorial Day by being proud to raise the standard. Sadly, parts of the population now disrespect the flag and our national anthem by refusing to stand or salute. But the ironic fact is that the price soldiers paid with their blood in the ground across the world gives these people the right to do so.
The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family. (Numbers 2:2)
6. Never Forget
Our union’s history is one unlike any other. We were founded upon godly principles. War was fought to preserve the rights given to man in Scripture. We can acknowledge heroic acts all the way back to the Revolutionary War and be re-educated as to the high cost paid to give birth to America.
One of my favorite places to visit is Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. I thought I knew a lot about our homeland’s founding until I visited this historic and revered site.
Locations and historic sites such as this need to be preserved and esteemed. The more we learn of the hardships and dedication of those who have given up lives and health for our welfare, the better we will appreciate the high cost it took to form our government.
Some of our fights have been more well-known than others. The Spanish-American War and the War of 1812 are not as publicized as some of our other struggles. We should value the consequence of every battle that produced a part of our history.
Servicemen and women are also buried across the world in the lands where they fell. 81,900 missing in action warriors are still unaccounted for dating back to World War II.
It may not be physically accessible for us to visit foreign burial grounds, but we can attend by video or printed page.
Our country isn’t perfect, and we have had some dark times, but if we forget what happened in the past, we are bound to repeat it.
Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account. (Ecclesiastes 3:15)
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/4maksym
7. Volunteer with Organizations Who Preserve National Cemeteries
Military cemeteries are flanked in rainbows of patriotism each Memorial Day as thousands of miniature flags blow in the wind across the graves. The time-consuming task of placing these banners next to each headstone requires lots of people. The more volunteers are available, the quicker the remembrances are ready.
Personal involvement would also bring the cost closer to home as step-by-step a flag is placed near a marble marker. The name inscribed would be a visual reminder of the human being who left behind loved ones to mourn.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. (Luke 1:69-71)
The Most Crucial Sacrifice
The most important remembrance we can exalt is the night Jesus broke bread with His disciples.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
His sacrifice is the greatest ever given. The spiritual freedom He bought for us laid the foundation for the founding fathers to stand for human rights and be willing to fight to the death to give those rights to the colonists who would soon be known as Americans.
Because of centuries of victorious battles, the United States of America is a city set upon a hill to shine the light of the gospel to the world.
May every grave that houses an American military member, whether at home or abroad, never be left without the gift of gratitude for the most treasured sacrifice.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. (Psalm 33:12)