Since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, 275 Ohio soldiers have lost their lives in action. 275 stories of bravery and determination came to an abrupt end in battlefields far from the comforts of home. 275 families were left to pick up the pieces and continue with their lives after receiving the news they dreaded most.
Why did these soldiers give their lives? Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield asked the same question on May 30, 1868, as he addressed a crowd gathered in Arlington National Cemetery for the country’s first official Memorial Day ceremony. As they adorned the graves of Civil War soldiers with flowers and sang hymns, the future president asked them to consider “what high motive” led over 600,000 Union soldiers to make a “heroic sacrifice” on the blood-soaked battlefields around the nation.
The answer is the same in 2016 as it was in 1868. Our fallen soldiers gave their lives to protect our freedom. They sacrificed because of their love for the first country on earth that was founded not on an ethnic identity, religion or shared history but on the idea that all people are created equal. They sacrificed to defend our country from all threats to security and sovereignty. They and their families demonstrated the true cost of living in freedom.
How can we as Ohioans honor those who lay down their lives for their country? In the middle of a divisive election year, we can intentionally take a break from politics and unite as one nation to remember sacrifice that knows no political party or candidate. When we see a road named after a fallen soldier in our own community, we can pause for a moment to give thanks for a life lived in service to a higher cause. We can treat the parades, picnics and ceremonies we attend as more than an unofficial celebration of summer’s advent. We can further the cause of the fallen by fighting to make sure our soldiers are fully equipped in the line of duty and our veterans have the resources they need to flourish in civilian life.
Wherever we happen to be this last Monday in May, let us do whatever we can to honor the sacrifice of soldiers that, in the words of James A. Garfield, “made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” That day in 1868, Garfield closed his speech with these words:
“Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!”
This Memorial Day, join me in remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
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