Honoring Fallen Heroes – Memorial Day, May 30

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Here in the United States we honor the service and sacrifice of those who died while wearing our nation’s uniform on Memorial Day.  Throughout history over 1.1 million military men and women have fallen.

Image by Daniel L. Burgess, USN, ret.

In 2011 Memorial Day will be observed on this coming Monday, May 30th (always on the last Monday of May).  It’s also a Federal holiday so many Americans enjoy a 3-day weekend.

I hope as you kick off summer, you also take time to recognize the sacrifices of those who paid for your freedom with their life. 

There’s a gentleman I know (a Vietnam veteran) who lost his brother in the Vietnam War.  He recently said something to me I found quite poignant:

“For those who fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.”

And please don’t forget to pause for one brief moment at 3:00pm local time on May 30th for the “National Moment of Remembrance.” 

In December 2000 “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was signed into law by the U.S. Congress and the president.  It’s a simple way to give something back to our country, and to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation.

As the expression goes, “Put the ‘memorial’ back in Memorial Day.”

What else might you do on May 30th?

– Visit veteran cemeteries and place American flags on grave sites

– Say a prayer of gratitude for all who sacrificed their lives in military service

– Observe or participate in a Memorial Day event in your local area

I’ll close with a very famous poem by Theodore O’Hara.  Stanzas of his poem, “Bivouac of the Dead” are inscribed on iron and stone tablets throughout some of the oldest sections of our national cemeteries.

He was a poet-soldier born in 1820 in Danville, Kentucky.  His military service bridged the period from the Mexican War to the Civil War.  It was the Mexican War that inspired his poem.  However it was nearly a decade later during the Civil War when his poem captivated the attention of a patriotic nation.


 The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead. 

Arlington National Cemetery

No rumor of the foe’s advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
The warrior’s dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms. 

Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle’s stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout, are past;
Nor war’s wild note nor glory’s peal
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore may feel
The rapture of the fight.

Like the fierce northern hurricane
That sweeps the great plateau,
Flushed with the triumph yet to gain,
Came down the serried foe,
Who heard the thunder of the fray
Break o’er the field beneath,
Knew well the watchword of that day
Was “Victory or death!”

Long had the doubtful conflict raged
O’er all that stricken plain,
For never fiercer fight had waged
The vengeful blood of Spain;
And still the storm of battle blew,
Still swelled the gory tide;
Not long, our stout old chieftain knew,
Such odds his strength could bide.

Twas in that hour his stern command
Called to a martyr’s grave
The flower of his beloved land,
The nation’s flag to save.
By rivers of their father’s gore
His first-born laurels grew,
And well he deemed the sons would pour
Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother’s breath has swept
O’er Angostura’s plain —
And long the pitying sky has wept
Above its moldered slain.
The raven’s scream, or eagle’s flight,
Or shepherd’s pensive lay,
Alone awakes each sullen height
That frowned o’er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land’s heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from war his richest spoil —
The ashes of her brave.

Thus ‘neath their parent turf they rest,
Far from the gory field,
Borne to a Spartan mother’s breast
On many a bloody shield;
The sunshine of their native sky
Smiles sadly on them here,
And kindred eyes and hearts watch by
The heroes sepulcher.

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep shall here tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her records keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor Time’s remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory’s light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

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