Since man has fought with man, tribes, city states, and nations have paid their respects to their fallen warriors by laying flowers and wreathes at their graves. The ancient Greeks did it. So did the Romans. So did the ancient Chinese.
But America is different. We don’t just honor those who fought with courage or brought our country glory. Nor do we speak so much of concepts like Valhalla or Elysium, where our fallen live on immortal. Instead, we focus on the sacrifice our fallen heroes have given to keep us free—free not in some distant realm, but free right here and now.
Which begs the question, free from what?
Those we remember on Memorial Day fought to keep us free from what dictators and tyrants want to impose upon us. We are free from any religious group or leader who demands we follow their faith. We are free from any bully who demands that they alone have the right to express their opinions without challenge. And we are free from any authority who seeks to disarm us or unreasonably interfere with our homes or property.
These, and other freedoms, are guaranteed by our Constitution. In their genius our Founding Fathers also set out Amendment 9, which protects many other rights freedoms not expressly mentioned in the Constitution. Those additional rights and freedoms include the freedom to marry who we choose and raise a family, and the freedom to move about this great country in search of opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.
The pursuit of happiness extends beyond the circumstances of our birth. It's the freedom to tap the potential within each of us through hard work and discipline. We were never meant to be a kleptocracy or an oligarchy. And we were never meant to be locked in some caste system, where so many toil away in hardship and pain, while a chosen few live in lavish excess. We must remain a nation of opportunity and not merely random destiny.
The City on the Hill
Because of these freedoms, America is not just the latest in a history's string of powerful empires. We are something different. We are what the Bible refers to as the “City on the Hill.”
400 years ago, John Winthrop first used this phrase to inspire members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He wanted them to strive to establish their new home "as a city upon a hill, watched by the world." Later, President John F. Kennedy used those same words to inspire America. And then, routinely, President Ronald Reagan used the phrase to remind us of what type of nation we must be—a light to the world, safe, warm, strong, and free.
Those we honor today did not die for glory and immortality. They died for freedom—yours and mine. On foreign battlefields, they faced the the forces of tyrannies built on much darker ideas. And their light cast out and defeated that darkness. And though it may flicker, may we always resist any force—domestic or foreign; through flattery or scorn—which may seek to put out our City's sacred light.
So today I ask you to kindly remember not just the fallen, but also the values for which they fought and died. May we always be free. May we always be a light unto the world. May we always be the City on the Hill.
With highest regards,