If Honor, Then Honor
“All we have of freedom, all we use or know – this our fathers bought for us long and long ago.” These words by Rudyard Kipling remind us of the importance of Memorial Day. In the rush of life it’s easy to forget this truth. We need to remember that our freedom comes with a price.
This past Monday, May 26, was Memorial Day. It is a federal holiday for remembering those who died in the service of our country’s armed forces. In practice it has expanded to giving honor to those who have served or are now serving in the armed forces. It originated after the Civil War with the commemoration of Union and Confederate soldiers who had given their lives in military service. It started out being called Decoration Day. This title came from the practice of decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers.
Why should we as Christians do this? I believe part of the answer is found in Romans 13:1-7. Here Paul writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit calls us to be mindful of our attitude toward those who govern us. He concludes with these words in verse 7, “Give everyone what you owe him . . . if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Soldiers are not governing authorities, but they serve the government as well as the citizens of the country. If anyone deserves respect and honor, it is those who have died while serving in such a capacity or by serving now and showing their willingness to do just that if necessary.
One way you can go beyond Memorial Day to honor those who gave their lives for our country is to visit a battlefield or war memorial. If you have never done this, I would encourage you to do it this summer. This is a way to make history come alive to all of us – especially children and young people. You are actually standing on sacred ground, and with the many interactive approaches now at these sites, it brings the battle to life.
I know this works because of our two youngest children. They did not go willingly – especially Melody. Yet we still talk about these vacations and enjoy discussing the battles and what happened to us as we visited these sites. The history has actually become a part of our family history. Melody who now has two daughters says this is one of the best things we could have done.
A helpful book is American Battlefields: A Complete Guide to the Historic Conflicts in Words, Maps, and Photos. It is crammed with information to help you understand what happened at each site, helpful insights to the various military museums and special features. With this book in hand you are ready for exploration of our history. As the author, Hubbard Cobb, says, “Less than 300 years ago, the American landscape was nearly all wilderness. Unlike far older nations, we have no medieval cathedrals, ruined castles, or crumbling palaces to haunt us. But we do have a host of battlefields, which serve as tangible reminders of our past.”
Let me conclude by listing three of my favorite battlefields and memorials. First, I would recommend the Little Bighorn Battlefield near Hardin, Montana. It is a long drive but it is worth it. When you get to the high plains of the Big Sky Country, you will know why. The museum there is excellent. The park rangers include Native Americans, and the rangers mingle throughout the grounds in the dress of and with the equipment of the Native Americans and the soldiers. As they do, they explain why they are dressed that way, how they use the equipment, and how they approached the battle. Watch out for the rattlesnakes! Reba and I can tell you about our son Matt and the rattlesnake.
Second, I would encourage you to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, PA. The museum here is without a doubt the best Civil War museum I have seen. The battlefield can be toured a number of ways. You can get a map and do your own thing. You can get a CD and map and follow the map and at each stop listen to the CD. Or you can pay a fee and have a park ranger ride with you, and they will explain the battlefield to you as well as answer your questions.
Third, I would highly recommend a visit to the Wall in Washington, D.C. Here are listed all the names of those soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. When we visited, it was early morning and bagpipes were being played. It was a very moving experience.
Finally, I would say don’t miss Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The honor shown here in the precision and vigilance to detail is something to see. As the trumpet plays and you look out on row after row of graves you are reminded of the great cost of our freedom.
I close with the words of Arthur Frommer, “When we lose our past, we lose a part of ourselves—our collective memory and soul.”