Like many nations, the United States pauses each year to honor those who died in its defense through military service. The custom is an ancient one, recalling a speech by the Athenian statesman Pericles that the casualties of war are worthy men and "the living need not have a more heroic spirit."
On Monday, May 29, Memorial Day, in communities across America, there will be speeches striking similar themes and a moment of silence will be observed. Like the poppies in Flanders Fields [World War I battlefields in Belgium described in a famous poem], small flags will be seen among the graves in the nation's many military cemeteries and the families of the fallen will stop to remember.
Beyond mere ceremony, the day represents a debt paid by the living to those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure their country's freedom. Some died in battle, some of disease. Others were lost in foreign prisons and never returned. Most died very young, defending their nation's ideals and liberties perhaps even before they had much of a chance to fully appreciate them. Hundreds of thousands died fighting to make others free too, in North Africa, Europe, the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East.
Memorial Day honors no single battle or war. Its meaning transcends heroic monuments. Rather, it is the recognition by a grateful nation that lives and blood lost in defense of its freedoms are never given in vain.