What Israel taught me about Memorial Day

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today, thousands of men and women carrying the names of fallen soldiers will conclude a thirty-one-day relay across a total of 6,200 miles. Organized by the nonprofit “Carry The Load,” the two routes began in Seattle, Washington and West Point, New York. They will meet in Dallas today for a Memorial Day March.

Last year, their event raised more than $2 million to build homes for veterans, provide adaptive training for injured soldiers, and support mental health programs. Their goal this year is to raise $2.5 million.

Their commitment is what Memorial Day in America should be all about.

Known as “America’s most solemn occasion,” this day has been set aside to remember the 1.3 million men and women who died in the service of our nation. This is the very least we can do for those who died for us and for those who grieve their loss. I am frankly concerned that in recent years Memorial Day seems to have become less about our fallen heroes and more about a three-day weekend to start the summer.

Contrast our holiday with the way Israel commemorates Yom HaZikaron, its Memorial Day, each year on April 30. Candles are lit in homes, schools, and synagogues. A siren is heard all over the country. When they hear it, Israelis stop everything. Those driving on roads and highways stop, get out of their cars, and stand in silence as they remember those who have died for their country.

I have been in Israel during Yom HaZikaron and was deeply moved. Why should we follow their example?

One: Memorial Day deepens our commitment to the cause for which our heroes died.

It is easy to take our nation for granted. Memorial Day reminds us that freedom is not free. Without our soldiers’ sacrifice, we could still be a colony of England or live in a world dominated by Nazism, Communism, or radical jihadism. If America was worth their sacrifice, she is worth ours.

Two: Memorial Day calls us to serve those who serve us.

More than 2.5 million Americans are serving in our military on active duty or in the reserves. They deserve to know that if they give their lives for our nation, we will never forget their sacrifice. Consider also the spouses and children of soldiers who died for our country. Their loss and their service to our nation continue.

It is therefore appropriate that all Americans are asked to stop whatever we are doing today at 3:00 PM local time for a moment of silence, remembrance, and gratitude. I have set my phone alarm and encourage you to do the same. While “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), Christians are called to be Jesus’ ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Let’s show our nation the compassion of our Father.

Army Capt. Mark Resh was killed in Iraq a decade ago. His mother was asked to speak to high school students about the meaning of Memorial Day. She explained, “It’s not about the picnics. It’s about the men and women who have given their lives for this country.”

Then she added, “Every day is Memorial Day for us.” As it should be for us all.

NOTE: For more on this very important day, please see Ryan Denison’s How to honor the dead this Memorial Day.