Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Photo: Win McNamee
Photo: Win McNamee

Opinion: Memorial Day’s a timeless, important observation

American servicepeople continue to die in selfless service to the freedoms we enjoy. Their sacrifice deserves our thanks, and our remembrance, this weekend and beyond.

Editor’s Note: This editorial originally appeared on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Editorial page of Memorial Day weekend, 2012.

The bright sun of a warm morning still raises a faint glint on the time-smoothed headstones that cascade in neat ranks across the hills of the old graveyard. A light wind carries the smell of fresh mulch, rustles tree leaves and sends a black-and-white POW-MIA flag clanging against its staff in the distance.

Yet it is quiet here, inside the beige stone walls and along the narrow paths at Marietta National Military Cemetery. That encourages a reflective mood as one moves amid the headstones set into the carefully tended grass.

Robert Green Ingersoll remarked of the Civil War’s dead that, “They died for liberty —- they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless. … Earth may run red with other wars, but they are at peace. In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.”

There are heroes buried here. Ordinary men and women too. They earned their place here during wars both a century distant, or still within living memory. Patriots all, in the most earnest sense of the word. They did the toughest of jobs faithfully and well — sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Freedom was worth the price.

They’ve earned their rest. They deserve our remembrance.

That’s the real intent of Memorial Day — a message that sometimes gets unduly muted as we, the living, hustle through busy lives in a land that yet remains free. That’s worth pausing to ponder this weekend. And it warrants participating in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. Monday.

The innumerable caravan of this nation’s veterans who have passed into eternity deserve that much. Simple acknowledgment, a quiet heart of thanksgiving and continuing to walk upright as free men and women will honor and validate their collective sacrifice as our Republic continues to endure through times of both peace and war.

That was the underlying, prescient message relayed in 1996 by the Georgia Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. “Remember Pearl Harbor — Keep America Alert” reads the inscription on their monument in Marietta.

In the middle of a morning last week, groundskeepers outnumbered visitors at the old cemetery. It no longer accepts new interments and a sign read “Closed” on the office door near the great stone entrance archway. One middle-aged man pulled in to inquire about the time of the Memorial Day ceremony here. He had the right idea. For to forget the past is truly to risk the future.

Forgetting is harder to do these days, what with memories still raw and fresh of the long, recently ended war in Iraq. Yet, as a nation, we’re not done with conflict. We may never be.

American servicemen and servicewomen continue to battle our foes overseas even as we at home cast wary eyes about for enemies who have shown they can be afoot, and attack, in our own midst.

Unmanned military drones continue to hunt and kill those who have sworn oaths of harm to our country. On the hills of Afghanistan, American troops continue to back with their sweat and blood the NATO mission to rout the Taliban and bring stability to that country.

Even the future is fraught with risk, given the possibility of tinderboxes in other countries exploding into armed conflict on short notice.

Thus, we remain vigilant. There’s no other choice. The fatigue of watchfulness is made easier if we never forget the brave, noble example of those who lost their lives for our sake. They each helped push freedom’s cause boldly forward into this present day. It’s for us to continue that work.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

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