What Should We Remember on Memorial Day? Seven Values To Remember

A number of years ago, I was doing some work in Washington D.C. I hadn’t had much of an opportunity to see some of the sights around town, so as soon as my work was over, I did a quick tour in the early evening. I went and listened to an open session of the Senate, attended a concert of the Marine Band on the steps of Congress, walked up the Washington Monument, and finally made my way over to the Vietnam War Memorial.

As I approached, I was greeted by an elderly volunteer who asked if I was looking for someone. Although I hadn’t thought about it at the time, I remembered a high school buddy who lost his life there. I gave her his name. She opened a very large book, found his name, and identified which panel and on which line his name could be found. Then she led me to the panel. As I perused all the names on the panel, my fingers finally came to rest on his name, and I began to sob. My volunteer guide quietly asked if I would like a rubbing of his name. I said that I would. She took out a piece of tissue paper, placed it over his name, and rubbed a pencil over his name until it appeared on the paper. Then she folded it into an envelope for keeping and bid me a good evening. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of the names of those individuals who did not return from that faraway place. 

Today as I reflect upon the service of my father in World War II and that of my uncle and his service in fighting at the Battle of the Bulge, it is awkwardly apparent that the America that they fought, lived, and died for is not the America of today. Their America was a country that espoused values that were the foundation and core of the lives they lived, values such as industry, righteousness, honor, integrity, respect, responsibility, and honesty.

As we reflect upon those men and women who have sacrificed and are sacrificing for us and all that we have, perhaps our memories of them should also include a remembrance of what made them who they were and that which still has the power to make us and America great.

Industry. Work is the engine of success. When my father put me on the bus to go to college, he said, “I said I would send you to college, but that didn’t mean I would pay for it.” It was apparent from that moment on, that if I was going to finish what I was about to start, I had to work and pay my way to achieve that goal. I learned quickly that if I could control my thoughts and actions, then I could control my circumstances. No amount of whining, complaining, or blaming others was ever going to improve my circumstances. It was up to me and no one else to make things happen.

Righteousness. I am sure this word will raise some eyebrows because it has the underlying assumption that there is a right and wrong that can be assigned to the conduct by which we live. There are immutable laws that if followed will lead to specific results. Those results will lead us to happiness or to immense sadness and remorse. It is up to each individual to determine their course and then steer their life in a way that will lead to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. That pursuit does not come at the expense of others. Life, liberty and happiness should come to us as individuals through a sense of self-worth and dignity and the contributions we make, not for what we acquire or what we may take from others.

Honor. To honor is to show high regard and appreciation for something, for the sacrifices, efforts, and gifts of others. It may also mean that we live up to what we espouse to believe and stand for. Nothing is free and everything has a cost. The question today seems to focus more on who should pay for what, rather than what can we can give or do to help another.

Integrity.  Although this word is synonymous with honesty, it also means whole or undivided. Think of the many divisions that currently confront us and ask yourself where and on what we could be more unified. The lack of unity seems to arise more out of the notion of individuals who focus on, “what’s in it for me,” or, “because you have it, then so should I.” Equality never was meant to be defined as everyone having a right to be the same or have the same. Indeed, the only way in which we are equal is in the concept that we were each born with the ability to choose and to make of ourselves what we will. Integrity then becomes the unity which encompasses what we believe and how we will act out of those beliefs—to be congruent.

Respect. Respect is the hallmark of a civilized society. People want to be respected for what they believe, yet lately we don’t seem to want to accord the respect due to others that don’t agree with us. Respect is a two-way street. We are free to think, speak, and worship as we please, but that does not mean that we are justified in demeaning, belittling, or abusing those who do not hold our views or ideology. That is the main reason the founding fathers left their mother country behind. They wanted to be accorded the respect that each deserves as a member of the human family. Those among us who can’t seem to give anyone with a differing opinion their due respect doesn’t understand the principles upon which America was founded and for which so many died to preserve.

Responsibility. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to others. When we give up our responsibility, then we allow someone else to enslave and control us. You cannot expect others to provide for you what you are not willing to provide or do for yourself. In reality, we can never rise higher than the level which is provided. So, for those who have provided something that we could not provide for ourselves, we might ask ourselves what we might do to repay them and what might we do to lift others. We have a responsibility to do the right thing for the right reason. Lately we seem to be more apt to do the wrong thing, regardless of our understanding of what’s right.

Honesty. The lack of honesty is centered in selfishness. When one is selfish, then the ends come to justify the means. What is so profoundly amazing about those that we honor on Memorial Day is that they honestly and sincerely believed in what they were doing by choosing to serve us and preserve what they held most dear. Those that would shirk responsibility, respect, and integrity, are left to lie and misrepresent who they are and what they stand for. Unfortunately for us, their dishonesty is only discovered when their words and actions don’t match and when the results of their actions become visible to all. Sometimes even then, our own lack of honesty makes it difficult to recognize the dishonesty of others.

Memorial Day is a day for remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who did something that we could not do for ourselves. A day when we should memorialize that which we value most. A day when we should recommit ourselves to what we deem to be of the most importance. Hopefully in our celebrations, we will pause to remember and honor what so many died to preserve and choose to live in a way that will help to preserve the same.

View Comments

Join the Conversation

Name *
Email *

What people are saying

Robin | May 27, 2016 | REPLY
Thanks for your thoughts.
John R. Stoker | July 1, 2016 | REPLY
Thanks for commenting. I am glad some people read what I write. I only hope it is worthwhile. J
Alice Mullen | May 31, 2016 | REPLY
Thanks John. Another great article.
John R. Stoker | July 1, 2016 | REPLY
Thank you for your kind words. Happy Fourth of July!! J
Marlene | May 31, 2016 | REPLY
WOW! Thanks so much for sharing John as this was a great article. Full of truths to reflect on.
John R, Stoker | July 1, 2016 | REPLY
Marlene, Thanks for your kind words. I think we all ought to do a better job of recognizing what is important to us and then have the courage to do what we know we should instead of standing idly by. Thanks for your comment. J