It is the day after Memorial Day and pools are open, sales are over, and those hot dogs at the baseball parks are still awfully expensive. And yes, those who we honored yesterday still lie in their final duty stations. But the question is, what shall we do for the next 364 days until the next Memorial Day?
I have shared a simple theme over the past week where I have spoken. These two words come to us from a memorable film depicting the utter heroism and courage of our Greatest Generation, “Saving Private Ryan.” This year, just a few days away, will be the 75th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944, otherwise called D-Day. In that film, we are introduced to the story of a Ranger Company Commander named Captain Miller, portrayed by Tom Hanks, an Academy Award-winning performance. After the D-Day landings, Captain Miller is given the task to select a few of his men and go on a mission to find a young Army Private in the 101st Airborne Division, Ryan, portrayed by Matt Damon, who has lost all of his other Brothers in the European and Pacific theaters of operation.
Trekking through enemy held territory, Captain Miller and his group of Rangers, who had suffered two losses, finally find young Private Ryan. Ryan would rather stay with his infantry squad, while the Germans are about to mount a counterattack to seize a key bridge crossing. Only Miller’s few and Ryan’s depleted squad stand in their way – and they make a stand.
In what I consider to be the true meaning behind the movie, and the words that remained in Ryan’s mind throughout his life, there is a short exchange between a dying Captain Miller and Private Ryan. He brings him close, and with his final breath, he whispers to Ryan, “Earn this.”
The grown man Private Ryan stands at the Cemetery at Normandy before the gravestone of Captain Miller. He turns to his wife and says to her, “Tell me I was a good man. Tell me I lived a good life.” The older Ryan was reflecting upon those two words uttered to him by Captain Miller and wanted the validation from his wife that he had indeed “earn[ed] this.”
And what was it that Captain Miller implored Private Ryan to earn? Simple, it was the sacrifice of those who gave their lives so that he could have his. As it is written in John 15:13 (New International Version), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
That is what Memorial Day is all about, ladies and gentlemen. It is not just about the one day, which many just let pass with no reflection. It is about living the subsequent 364 days remembering those two words, “earn this.” That is the least we can do for all of those from the field of Lexington Green on April 19, 1775 to today who have made the ultimate sacrifice, the last full measure of devotion, to what President Abraham Lincoln termed, “the last best hope for mankind,” our United States of America.
This past Sunday, I was in York County, South Carolina for their Memorial Day ceremony. It was a hot day, and yes, the southern humidity was kicking in. Then again, I remember the temperatures hitting 133 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We were gathered to honor the 250 names of those brave Americans who had lost their lives since World War I to current Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom that were etched into stone. Just a small American community taking the time to honor its beloved sons it had lost. And what was so very special was to see the young high school JROTC cadets who read the names of each of those fallen. I am quite sure that all over America, in small communities like York County, South Carolina, the same scene was playing out, but not everywhere. As we wake to this day after Memorial Day, we need to ask ourselves: are we truly earning the sacrifice of those who have gone before us? When we disparage, demean, denigrate our own country for all the world to see, are we earning this?
The flag that draped the coffins of those honored dead, the flag that was planted in the Gardens of Stone, our national cemeteries, at the headstones of those dead – like my dad at Marietta National Cemetery and my father-in-law at Arlington National Cemetery – that is the same flag that here in America is at times disrespected by those who do not understand that symbol of a commitment to liberty, freedom, and individual rights.
Yes, we who have taken the sacred oath to support and defend our Constitution, to safeguard the freedoms that are enshrined there. Yes, it may hurt us deeply, but we stand on freedom’s rampart to ensure people have their rights to religion, speech, expression, assembly, the ability to petition the government for redress of grievances, and the right to keep and bear arms.
Those who have gone before us did not make that sacrifice so that some would redefine rights based upon an ideology that is the antithesis of our constitutional republic and for all that it stands.
Think about it. If those honored dead could whisper to us from their graves, what would they say?
We have a system of taxation in America that is based upon the philosophy of Karl Marx. We have individuals in elected office who speak ill of our fallen warriors. We have elected individuals who believe that America needs to be fundamentally transformed. We have those who do not believe we are a sovereign constitutional republic with borders to defend. We have those who believe that they must disarm Americans in order to institute their ideological agenda. We have some who make the decisions on acceptable, not free, speech and will censor those with whom they differ, their political opposition.
We are ripping future generations of Americans from their mothers’ wombs, and now even have those who openly support killing born American babies.
“Earn this” – two simple words that on this day after Memorial Day you should inquire of yourself just as the older Private Ryan did in the movie. And what will your life be defined by and how will you be remembered by those who pass your final resting place?
Remember, before Lincoln spoke at the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication, a fella named Edward Everett spoke for two hours, no one remembers.
Lincoln only spoke 273 words. Here are a few of them:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
President Abraham Lincoln was telling us to “earn this.”
Allen West is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. Mr. West is a Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center to support its mission to expose and neutralize liberal media bias. Mr. West also writes daily commentary on his personal website theoldschoolpatriot.com.