Teresa Philyaw is mayor of Hiram, a small town west of Atlanta, Georgia. She planned a display of seventy-nine white crosses along Highway 92 as a way to honor the seventy-nine Paulding County residents who died in America’s wars. The mayor explained: “We wanted to make sure that they weren’t forgotten. We also wanted their families to know that our hearts still bleed for them.”
However, an unnamed resident called Hiram’s city manager to complain about the religious nature of the display. So the city manager decided to remove the crosses, even though this symbol is used to mark American military graves all over the world. After a public outcry, the city council met last Tuesday and the crosses were back in place Wednesday morning.
Memorial Day weekend begins tomorrow, as we honor the 1.1 million Americans who died while serving in the U.S. military. Why is it so important for us to remember those who died in the service of our country? Consider two facts.
One: Remembering the past is vital to living in the present.
The children of Israel were camped on the east bank of the flooded Jordan River, with no way to cross into their Promised Land. So God send his priests to stand in the river, then he miraculously stopped its flow. Before the nation crossed over, the Lord instructed Joshua to send twelve men, one from each tribe, into the river bed where the priests stood. They were to collect twelve stones, then use them to build a lasting monument to this miracle (Joshua 4:1–7). Their purpose: “These stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (v. 7).
When we remember those who went before us, we are called to affirm the values for which they lived and died. And we are challenged to emulate their sacrifice with our own commitment.
Two: Remembering those who have fallen is vital to serving those who serve.
“No soldier left behind” has been the commitment of our military to its service personnel across our history. This policy not only empowers the military to rescue the imprisoned and return the fallen—it also encourages present service members with the knowledge that they will be cared for in the same way.
Memorial Day is an extension of this commitment. As we remember those who died for our country, we signal present-day military personnel that their sacrifice is not forgotten. In this way we “remember the days of old” and “consider the years of many generations” (Deuteronomy 32:7). And we support those who serve our nation today.
How can you make Memorial Day significant this weekend?
Soldiers have been hard at work placing 230,000 U.S. flags at Arlington National Cemetery, part of the annual “Flags-In” ceremony. Join their commitment by making time to visit a military cemetery in your area. Place a flag and stop to offer a prayer of gratitude. If you have children in your home, explain Memorial Day to them. Include them in your activities of remembrance this weekend. And find a way to thank those who are serving in our military today and their families.
Minot Judson Savage: “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men.” May his words be true for us today.