Each morning when I raise the American flag outside my house, I remember what my father, a World War II and Korean War veteran, used to say: the red stripes represent those who gave their lives so you can be free.
Memorial Day is a time this country has set aside for us to remember our fallen heroes. As President Reagan explained in his 1986 speech at Arlington National Cemetery: “Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It's a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It's a day to be with the family and remember.”
President Reagan further explained that Memorial Day is also a time for Americans to promise our fallen heroes, so their sacrifices will not be in vain, to remember “that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.”
President Reagan’s expression about the meaning of Memorial Day is not unique to him. I think it is common among most Americans and was also well expressed in the poem, “Freedom is Not Free,” written by Kelly Strong in tribute to his father:
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.
I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.
May you and your families have a meaningful Memorial Day.