It is important that we not forget why we celebrate Memorial Day. We hope that these words from our shared past, eloquent in their simplicity and their grandeur, will help us remember and honor the sacrifices of those who have died in service to this nation in times of war:
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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, a speech delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 19, 1863, four-and-a-half months after Union forces defeated a Confederate army over the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the concluding words of his second inaugural address, March 4, 1865, less than a month before the surrender of the Confederate Army under Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, at Appomattox, Va.
"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."
GEN. JOHN A. LOGAN, General Orders No. 11, May 5, 1868, establishing May 30 of that year for honoring the Civil War dead.
"Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices. Because of these sacrifices, the dawn of justice and freedom throughout the world slowly casts its gleam across the horizon.
"At this decisive hour in history, it is very difficult to express my feelings. Words will not convey what is in my heart."
PRESIDENT HARRY S. TRUMAN, radio address to the armed forces, April 17, 1945.
"About him we may well wonder, as others have: As a child, did he play on some street in a great American city? Or did he work beside his father on a farm out in America's heartland? Did he marry? Did he have children? Did he look expectantly to return to a bride?
"We'll never know the answers to these questions about his life. We do know, though, why he died. He saw the horrors of war but bravely faced them, certain his own cause and his country's cause was a noble one; that he was fighting for human dignity, for free men everywhere.
"Today we pause to embrace him and all who served us so well in a war whose end offered no parades, no flags, and so little thanks. We can be worthy of the values and ideals for which our sons sacrificed worthy of their courage in the face of a fear that few of us will ever experience by honoring their commitment and devotion to duty and country."
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN at Arlington National Cemetery, May 28, 1984, to commemorate the tomb of the Unknown Soldier who fought during the Vietnam War.