A little more than a week ago, Kentucky laid to rest Army PFC Dustin Gross, the latest casualty from the war in Afghanistan.
There have been 113 other Kentuckians who have made the same ultimate sacrifice for our freedom while fighting there and in Iraq, and among those are our own heroes and preservers of freedom, including John Cooper, Lance Thompson, Darrin Potter, Christopher Wright, Jeremy Summers and Justin Scott.
All told, and counting those who perished in the Gulf War in the early 1990s, more than 6,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When it comes to standing up for freedom, Kentucky has a long history of giving more than her fair share. In the War of 1812, for example, we had more casualties than all other states combined, and no base has seen more deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, than Fort Campbell. Fort Knox’s presence has grown considerably over the last few years in the wake of federal base realignment, and last fall we learned that our National Guard has exceeded its own enlistment goals for eight straight years. One in 10 Kentucky adults, meanwhile, is a veteran.
As President Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, it is “all together fitting and proper” that we remember and honor our heroes.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about.
For nearly 150 years now, it has been a day of remembrance, a day to recall the sacrifice that so many gave for our nation.
The holiday began in the wake of the Civil War, when ceremonies were held to decorate the graves of those who died in battle. In fact, Decoration Day was often what the holiday was called until well into the 1960s.
Officially, Memorial Day was first recognized in New York, though there are numerous stories of it starting in the South, when grieving Confederate widows took time to tend to the graves of Union soldiers, knowing that their families were in mourning too.
About 40 years ago, Congress moved the holiday to the final Monday in May, though many still recognize May 30th as the true date, no matter when it falls on the calendar.
Since the Revolutionary War, there have been more than 42 million men and women to have served in America’s military, and more than 1.3 million paid the ultimate sacrifice. Another 1.5 million were wounded.
Earlier this month, one of the most well-known speeches dedicated to those who serve had its 50th anniversary. It was given to cadets at West Point by one of the most famous leaders of World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said three words drive all soldiers: “Duty. Honor. Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
No words better describe the men and women who serve in uniform. They find courage, faith, and hope when it seems there are none. That was as true in the Revolutionary War as it is today.
We can never adequately repay the men and women who gave us everything they had. All we can do is make sure those sacrifices are remembered and respected – not just during Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, and the Fourth of July, but every day.
For those reading this who have served our country, I want to take this opportunity to say how grateful we are as a nation for what you did and what you continue to represent. Whether you served in the European or Pacific theaters in World War II, or in foreign lands like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, or whether you protected our borders here, always know that your role in our history is secure – and most definitely appreciated. If it were not for the contributions and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, it is very safe to say that none of us would be living in a country that offers so much to so many.
If you can, I encourage you to attend a Memorial Day event, but if you cannot, please take at least a moment to recall those who were – and who are – willing to stand and be counted when it counted most. It is the very least we can do.