Over 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 soldiers buried inside Arlington National Cemetery on the first Memorial Day in 1868.

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke,” said President James Garfield to those gathered. “But we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

Over 1.3 million American military personnel have died in battles since our nation’s founding – with over one million of those fatalities linked to the Civil War and World War II.

Memorial Day is often associated with the unofficial start of summer, along with backyard barbeques, pool parties, retail sales and various festivals.

But beware if sober ceremonies and contemplative time commemorating the lives of those who paid the ultimate price aren’t at least a part of your Memorial Day weekend activities.

Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan suggests that “children have to be taught to love certain things. Such as their country.” She goes on to urge mothers and father to “teach your children to love America, either as an extension of your own love or as a simple kindness to them.”

She is absolutely correct.

It’s become fashionable, especially in elite circles, to run down the United States of America and its history. Instead of highlighting heroes, the snobs and ingrates work overtime to run them down, finding fault and casting aspersions on their motives and characters.

Monuments are being removed. History books are being rewritten. Lies and half-truths are being told.

In an age that is hungry for heroes, lauding and championing those who gave all is a good way to lay a foundation critical to fostering love of country.

Another way is to take your children to a Memorial Day ceremony this weekend. Let them hear the stories of the bravery and the courage – and the struggle and the sacrifice.

Pay a visit to a national cemetery and walk amid the rows of perfectly positioned identical white headstones. Look at the names and dates, take pictures and then search for their stories online.

Living in Colorado Springs, a committed military town, our family has had the opportunity and privilege to visit various cemeteries and memorial structures. Perhaps the youthfulness of those whose names are etched in stone or granite is the most jarring. When a 16-year-old boy sees the name of an 18-year-old who died in battle, there is a new appreciation for the realness and rawness of the sacrifice.

If you have a veteran in your extended family who has seen combat, you might want to set up a conversation that your son or daughter can have with them. They’ve inevitably lost friends in combat. Ask about them. Allow their stories to teach, instruct and inspire.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure your children don’t just know who died and when and where – but what they died for.

The men and women of our Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives did so to protect and defend America’s freedoms. They gave their all to ensure our liberty, independence and justice. They died so that we could have the right to pray publicly, speak openly, and live knowing that God and not government is our one true Master.

If you can, go to a parade. Fly the American flag. Give thanks to the Lord for the heroes on whose shoulders we stand.


Image from Getty.