Freedom is not free! I was reminded of these familiar words last week when I had the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery is our nation’s most hallowed ground and the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families, representing every American War. Service to country is the common thread that binds all who are remembered and honored there.
This weekend, on Memorial Day, citizens across our nation will pause to honor and remember those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep America free. This traditional day of remembrance began following the Civil War as northern towns and cities would hold springtime tributes to fallen Union soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
The first national ceremony was held in 1864. At that time, the tribute was called Decoration Day as it was a common tradition to decorate the graves. On that day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
By the end of World War I, the holiday had spread throughout the entire country as a way to remember the sacrifice of all our fallen soldiers. The name was changed to Memorial Day by the end of World War II.
Today, we celebrate Memorial Day with many of the same traditions. Flags are placed at the graves of the fallen while ceremonies and parades are held throughout our communities to honor their sacrifice. And, we have new traditions that celebrate our freedom ranging from backyard barbeques with family and friends to watching the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having fun. But, throughout these events, the sacrifices of all those who have served and defended our great country should never stray far from our thoughts. They are the reason we get to celebrate.
Over 2.2 million brave men and women are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. They serve in some the world’s most inhospitable areas putting their lives on the line every single day. And, they do it so we can be free. Most of us have someone close to us who is either currently serving or has served in the U.S. military.
They are our fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, teachers, neighbors and friends who have proudly worn the uniform, and we are proud of them.
If you get a chance this weekend, please say thank you to a soldier. Our nation owes each of them a debt that can never be repaid, but their sacrifice can be honored. Happy Memorial Day!
Luke Messer represents Indiana's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Dearborn and Ohio counties.