Counting the Cost
By Brenda Black
Memorial Day originally honored the Civil War dead that numbered more than 620,000 men. Each May since 1868, America's freedom-grateful acknowledge their fallen protectors with quiet prayer, vivid floral wreaths and ceremonious events. Try as we may to humble ourselves as a nation and observe the solemn and selfless acts of brave soldiers, the gestures pale in comparison to their greatness. And sadly, there will remain an ignorant disregard among the masses for such noble sacrifice.
Though teenage men faced bloody battles more than a hundred years ago, and writhed with guilt and weariness and hunger, little thought will be given them at 21st Century beach-side BBQs where youth feast and party. The latest generations vaguely recall their ancestors' names who fought for what they believed or those who languished to liberate others. They'll not be able to account for a great grandparent who died among the 33,741 fallen in North and South Korea or the 47,424 who lost life and limb in Vietnam unless they've been told of such feats.
You see, the indifference didn't begin with the youngest, it began when former generations stopped talking about real heroes and decided current cultural icons deserved more respect than officers and gentlemen who gave their lives in battle. We run the risk of blinding our selves to valuable lessons and worthy examples when all we do is talk about the future and brag about the present. Our station in life is blessed because of those who faced persecution in the past. Our freedoms are enjoyed thanks to those who relinquished their own. This nation is strong as a result of the strength of character and fortitude of the fearless who stood for liberty and truth.
Though Patrick Henry did not die in battle, I believe his powerful words spoken Mar. 23, 1775 at St John's Henrico Parish Church in Richmond, VA, express the reason for such heroics.
“...The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past...
“...Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! ...
“...Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Henry embodied the passion that pushes soldiers to prevail in dire circumstances. He represented the heart of freedom-loving Americans like the hundreds of thousands who faced danger bravely and succumbed to honorable deaths. There is never a generation that should ever forget! Our privileges come at a cost!
In addition to the 701,165 soldiers already mentioned who died in combat, let's remember the 5,067 modern-day casualties of war from the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq; the 8,428 who gave their lives in battle in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican war; and the 344,959 in WW I and WW II. They fought for liberty and accepted death as the exchange for such a luxury. These valiant patriots deserve our grateful acknowledgment this Memorial holiday. Stop and count your blessings – 1,059,619 of them.