America is a great country.
No, we are not a perfect land made up of perfect people. While as a nation, we may be more divided today than we have been in 150 years, and as the sun begins to usher in Summer, let us turn our focus from what separates us to what unites us.
Like many of you, I still remember how united we stood together in the days following the horrible moments of September 11, 2001 almost fifteen years ago.
America remains a beacon of freedom and a gateway to opportunity. Yes, like throughout our history, there is still work to be done, battles to be fought, and courses to be set. Our Founding Fathers did not see eye to eye on everything either. Yet, they worked tirelessly to overcome their differences and unite around their common desire to create a more perfect Union, ringing in a Nation of unprecedented freedom.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Declaration of Independence, 1776
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, 1787
Rooted in early traditions of mothers decorating the graves of their sons who had fallen in battle, Memorial Day grew nationally out of the ashes of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history that pitted brother against brother and claimed the lives of over 600,000 soldiers.
General John A. Logan, heading up an organization representing Northern Civil War veterans, was one of the first to call on a day of remembrance on May 5, 1868, then known as Decoration Day.
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
General John A. Logan
The first Decoration Day saw over 5,000 people place flowers on the 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This tradition would continue to grow throughout America with each passing year, in every State of the Union. Finding itself embroiled in another bitter conflict during World War I, Memorial Day, as it was now called, morphed into a holiday remembering the American military personnel who sacrificed their lives in all wars. Finally, in 1968, the U.S. Congress established Memorial Day be observed on the last day of May, officially beginning with the commemoration of the holiday in 1971.
The three-day weekend celebration cumulates with a national moment of remembrance observed at 3 p.m. local time.
Our nation has faced challenges in each season of its existence. In many of those seasons, young men and young women have paid the ultimate price for freedom by laying down their lives. Let us honor them by celebrating those unique qualities that make America great and through focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us.
This Memorial Day, let us remember that we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” And let us not forget, our Freedom has been secured through the ultimate great sacrifice by those who gave their all.