A fallen soldier’s thoughts on sacrifice

  • By Victor Joecks
  • Sunday, May 27, 2007 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Unlike our other patriotic holidays, Memorial Day honors the dead – those unable to march in parades or share in the fireworks, those who have given their country all they have to give. It is meant to be a time to contemplate and show appreciation to those who died in service to the United States of America.

Those of us who have never served in the Armed Forces may never truly understand that level of sacrifice, but Major John Alexander Hotell III made a valiant effort to try to explain it.

Major Hotell died in a helicopter crash in 1970 after earning two Silver Stars in the Vietnam War. He had written an obituary a year before his death and given it to his wife in a sealed envelope. It was later published in The New York Times. In the touching letter, he wrote:

“I deny that I died FOR anything – not my country, not my Army, not my fellow man, none of these things. I LIVED for these things, and the manner in which I chose to do it involved the very real chance that I would die in the execution of my duties. I knew this, and accepted it, but my love for West Point and the Army was great enough – and the promise that I would some day be able to serve all the ideals that meant anything to me through it was great enough – for me to accept this possibility as a part of a price which must be paid for all things of great value. If there is nothing worth dying for – in this sense – there is nothing worth living for.”

This country, conceived through conflict and war, has struggled since in hundreds of bloody battles for freedom, justice and the American way of life. Millions like Major Hotell answered their country’s call and sacrificed all to retain precious freedom for generations to come. On Memorial Day, we should dedicate ourselves to their memory and to the freedom for which they fought.

As President Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address:

“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The least we can do on this day is to take a few moments to commemorate our fallen heroes. These are some of the ways to do so:

* Visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the soldiers’ graves.

* Fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon. Memorial Day is a day of national mourning.

* Attend a religious service of your choice.

* Visit the national and state memorials.

* Participate in a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3 p.m. local time, to pause and think upon the meaning of the day.

* Renew a pledge to aid the widows and orphans of our fallen dead, and to help disabled veterans.

* Make a personal commitment to stand for liberty in your everyday life.

This Memorial Day we entreat you to remember the deaths of our American soldiers so that as American citizens, we will remember what life, sacrifice and love of country are all about.

Victor Joecks is a writer with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Center for Citizenship &Governance.

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