COLUMN: The High Price of Freedom: Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day

May 20, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

On May 25th, our nation observes Memorial Day. While many may take the opportunity of a long weekend to barbeque, enjoy time in the company of friends and celebrate the arrival of summer, I hope Americans remember the true meaning of this day.  This Memorial Day let us reflect on the high price paid for our freedom and honor the fallen. We honor all of those who have died in service of our nation.

From the earliest battles - in the struggle for our nation’s independence to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan today - the soldier has paid the highest price fighting for our freedom. On this day, our nation comes together to remember why the men and women of our Armed Forces willingly gave their lives. Memorial Day provides Americans the chance to ponder the brave men and women who gave up their own future for others because they deemed the freedom of their loved ones and the republic they served as worthy of sacrifice.

We remember the undaunted courage of those who served, such as Army Staff Sergeant Jack James Pendleton of Yakima. In Bardenberg, Germany on 12 October 1944, SSgt. Pendleton’s company was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. With virtually no cover, SSgt. Pendleton volunteered to advance to dislodge the enemy position. Without regard to his own safety, SSgt. Pendleton continued ahead of his squad to face the enemy. Despite being seriously wounded in the leg by gunfire, SSgt. Pendleton continued to crawl within 10 yards of the enemy machine gun, where he was killed by a hail of enemy fire. His selfless actions drew the enemy’s fire toward him, diverting attention and allowing another squad to advance and succeed in taking out the machine gun position. SSgt. Pendleton received the Medal of Honor posthumously for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Such sacrifice can leave us at a loss for words. In 1982, while giving Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, President Ronald Reagan expressed the inadequacy of words to match the bravery of soldiers like SSgt. Pendleton:

I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.

Yet, we must try to honor them—not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.

Words indeed fall short—the flags flown at half-staff and wreaths and flowers adorning headstones of the fallen demonstrate that we, as a people, remember.

As Americans, we must honor the memory of the brave and the fallen, not just on Memorial Day, but every day.