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COLUMN: An Honored Place in Our Hearts

May 30, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

As we observe Memorial Day this May 30th, I hope that we each take a moment to reflect on the high cost paid for the freedoms we enjoy by the men and women in our Armed Forces. Throughout our history, more than one million Americans have given their lives defending our liberty. This Memorial Day will be the 148th in our nation’s history, and rather than simply marking the beginning of summer, as Americans we should take the opportunity to honor those who have given their all.

For many Americans, the name “Arlington” immediately evokes the concepts of honor and patriotic duty. Originally the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee, Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia became a hallowed and honored place in our nation’s history, where many fallen military members have been laid to rest. Across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall, thousands of uniform headstones in perfect rows spread along the green hillsides of Arlington. The peaceful resting place of our heroes is a powerful and moving sight for all visitors.

At the center of Arlington is the white marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honors fallen service members “Known But to God,” as the words inscribed in the marble read. The tomb is watched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in all weather, by sentinels of the impeccable Tomb Guard. They wear meticulously-arranged uniforms, white gloves and march solemnly in front of the tomb. During the Changing of the Guard ceremony, they march in a series of 21 paces, symbolizing the 21 gun salute—the highest honor granted by the U.S. military. The ceremony is the way we as a nation expresses our gratitude and that we remember those who sacrificed everything in service to our freedom.

Every veterans’ cemetery, and every grave, marked or not, where an American soldier lies is hallowed ground. The words that President Lincoln expressed on the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863 apply just as much to the resting places of our soldiers: “But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” The patriots who have given their lives for the 240 years of our nation’s existence have honored that ground.

Living veterans also need their own communities to come around them to express our gratitude and support them. We remember them and recognizes their sacrifice. On Memorial Day, we are grateful for those men and women in uniform, who in Lincoln’s words, gave their “last measure of devotion.” They have an honored place in our hearts. God bless them, their families, and the United States of America.