The Highest Virtures of Men and Citizens
June 2, 2021 | View PDF
Memorial Day began in the years after the Civil War, when it was originally called “Decoration Day.” At the first official celebration of this holiday in 1868, then-Congressman James A. Garfield, who would become our 20th president, said in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery that those who gave their lives for our country “summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens.”
That is as true today as it was 150 years ago. Memorial Day honors the sacrifices of people like Charles Alan Jones, a Nebraskan who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seaman 2nd Class Jones was one of the more than 2,400 American soldiers who lost their lives that day. He was just 21 years old.
On May 15, nearly 80 years after his death, he finally returned home to Nebraska, where he was buried with full military honors in his hometown of Harvard. More than 150 people attended his funeral, including four generations of his family.
This reunion was only possible because of the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which was created in 2015 to identify the remains of soldiers who have been killed or gone missing in action. The agency’s two main laboratories are at Offutt Air Force Base, but they also operate out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor, not far from where Charles Alan Jones’s ship, the USS Oklahoma, sank in 1941.
Memorial Day is, above all else, about the selflessness of people like Charles Alan Jones. But there is no better way to pay tribute to our fallen heroes than by living out the vibrant community life they fought to protect.
On May 25, the Carry The Load relay team will stop at Omaha National Cemetery as part of their Midwest route, which winds over 4,000 miles through 14 states. Founded in 2011 by former Navy SEALs, Carry The Load sponsors relay teams who travel from city to city, handing off the same American flag to one another, to raise awareness in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day.
Also in Omaha, I am looking forward to participating in Patriotic Productions’ Memorial Day Patriotic Parade and Concert. I am honored to have the chance to walk with 100 Gold Star families from across the country during this moving event. Patriotic Productions’ well-known traveling memorial, Remembering Our Fallen, will also be on display throughout the weekend.
This Memorial Day, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what so many of our family, friends, and neighbors gave up to make the American way of life possible. To those who served and to those who are serving today: Thank you.
I hope you enjoy the backyard barbecues and time with friends and family that you may not have been able to do last year. The fallen service members this holiday honors fought for our right to do exactly that.