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‘All gave some; some gave all’: A Memorial Day reflection

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Howard William Osterkamp served in the US Army during the Korean War. He was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, but Army doctors misdiagnosed his injury.

He was sent back to the front lines with his leg broken in two places and served there for four months. He spent a total of nine months on the front lines during the conflict and later received the Purple Heart.

Osterkamp is widely credited with a phrase that is especially appropriate today: “All gave some; some gave all.”

As the son and grandson of military veterans, I know something of the sacrifices so many men and women have made to preserve our freedom. Today at 3 p.m., we are asked to pause for the National Moment of Remembrance, a minute of reflection and gratitude for the 1.1 million soldiers from all our wars who died for our nation.

“What the State is there for”

The Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of summer. Barbeques and parties dominate the holiday.

Americans will consume 818 hot dogs every second from Memorial Day to Labor Day (seven billion in total). We will spend $1.5 billion on meat and seafood over the weekend. More than forty-two million of us are traveling.

Such activities are a strange way to remember the soldiers who died for our country. We might expect this day to be entirely one of somber reflection.

And yet, the fact that we can spend Memorial Day happily with our families and friends is a significant consequence of the sacrifices we honor today.

C. S. Lewis: “It is easy to think that the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

“A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for.”

You and I are free to celebrate this American holiday because more than a million men and women died for America. Freedom is never free.

“Greater love has no one than this”

Now it’s our turn.

Jesus taught us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How did he love us?

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

—John 15:13

The night before he died on the cross for us, our Savior explained: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). Jesus’ best friend and eyewitness to his sacrifice later noted: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

What does it mean for us to “lay down our lives” for each other?

Three ways to serve

The first and most obvious answer is that we do what the soldiers we remember today did for us.

I think of Kendrick Castillo, who died protecting other students when gunmen opened fire at his high school in Colorado. And Riley Howell, who was shot three times and died tackling a gunman who opened fire inside his university in Charlotte.

I hope I would be brave enough to die so that others could live. Would you?

A second answer is that we choose to serve others at a cost to ourselves.

Scripture exhorts us: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24); “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

When last did it cost you something significant to serve someone?

A third answer is that we respond to those who hurt us with intercession rather than revenge.

Jesus was clear: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Choosing to pardon rather than seeking vengeance is a painful, humbling act of love.   

When last did you pray for someone who hurt you?

“It is the way things are.”

In short, we follow the example of the One who died for us (John 3:16), who serves us (Matthew 20:28), and who is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). Such obedience will impact our culture and show others that Jesus is alive in us.

I cannot think of a better way to honor our Savior and the soldiers we remember today than by serving others in gratitude for their sacrifice.

In The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner writes: “To see reality—not as we expect it to be but as it is—is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily: that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.

“This is not the way things ought to be. Most of the time it is not the way we want things to be. It is the way things are.”