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Remember to honor those in uniform this Memorial Day
To the Editor:
One hundred and fifty-five years ago, at the end of America’s Civil War — the most devastating conflict in our nation’s history — families of the fallen gathered in cemeteries large and small, to pray and to enshroud the graves of their loved ones with flowers.
From Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from heartland to mountaintop, these mournful visits by the bereaved were a common sight.
It is from those solemn gatherings for the fallen that our modern Memorial Day ceremonies arose. And it is from the famous words of one of America’s most beloved leaders regarding that bloody Civil War that our mission at the Department of Veterans Affairs originates.
President Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 — five days before the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and just 41 days before his assassination. His iconic speech, etched in granite at the Lincoln Memorial, still guides those of us privileged to work at VA today.
In his closing remarks, Lincoln chose to remind all Americans about the debt the nation has to those who fight for our freedom and the obligations we all have to the families of those who sacrifice their lives in our defense.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Those words — “to care for him who shall have born the battle” — constitute the basis of our VA mission to care for our living veterans and their families.
From generation to generation, Americans have answered the call to duty. The America we know would not exist today were it not for those who loved freedom and cherished liberty enough to fight for it. From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, in small skirmishes and epic battles, courageous Americans of every generation have stepped forward to fight for freedom when called upon and they will continue to do so in the future wherever liberty needs a defender.
And so, this Memorial Day, we choose to remember, to honor, and to express our gratitude to them all. Our country has been blessed with an abundance of men and women who have allowed us to flourish as a as a nation and who devoted their lives to principles far greater than self.
It is true that this Memorial Day is somewhat different than in the past. Due to our fight against the coronavirus pandemic, we will not gather in as many places as we normally do. But we can still remember and honor those who gave their lives in uniform just by spending a quiet moment paying homage to their courage and sacrifice and reflecting on the selflessness with which they did their duty so that our republic would be preserved.
Let us never forget.
Paul F. Hopkins
Interim Medical Center Director
John J. Pershing VA Medical Center