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Memorial Day Message (Washington, DC)
As Written by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, DC, Monday, May 26, 2008

For many Americans, Memorial Day is a welcome respite from work: an extra day to spend at the beach or finish errands.  But today is an occasion to reflect, remember, and honor all those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation.

Memorial Day grew from a Civil War tradition of women’s groups gathering each year to decorate the graves of those whose lives were lost during that bloody conflict.  But just 20 years later, one of its veterans, and later a Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., noted that some wondered why the holiday was still observed.  Even after wounds had healed and “the tattered flags of our regiments” had gathered dust, he argued, remembrance was not only relevant, but a duty to the fallen.

            Today, military support groups, veterans associations, and everyday Americans make sure that we pay tribute to those who have served and sacrificed.  By honoring our men and women in uniform, groups like the American Veterans Center keep alive the memory of those who paid the ultimate price.

            Nor should we forget the family members of our servicemen and women.  They, too, make significant sacrifices and contributions by taking on the challenges of day-to-day life that arise in households that are missing an important component of the family.

            While Memorial Day is a special holiday set aside to reflect on the service of our armed forces, it should by no means be the only day of the year in which we keep our servicemen and women in our hearts and minds.  We should think about their sacrifice every day.  We should recognize that this generation, like past generations, is serving in combat zones and keeping watch in faraway lands.  Those who serve are a special group. 

As Holmes said, “the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience…we have seen with our own eyes beyond and above the gold fields the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.”  Their actions guarantee our freedom and give others a chance to enjoy freedom – a noble endeavor that cannot be forgotten.