In 1967, "Memorial Day" became the official title of the somber holiday we observe on May 31. Across the country, ceremonies will take place at all 141 national cemeteries in the United States and 24 others on foreign soil. More than 3 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Guardsmen are interred in these hallowed burial grounds. In words written on stone markers, military cemeteries tell the story of who we are as a people.
Since 1776, more than 1.5 million Americans in uniform have given their lives for the cause of freedom. Regardless of when they served or how they died, all the heroes interred in our national cemeteries and elsewhere sacrificed for their country. To selflessly serve a higher cause, they gave up the comforts of home and the warmth and affection of loved ones.
In his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival ... of liberty." On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor the American patriots who paid the price, bore the burden and met the hardships to assure the survival of our liberty.
There are few things more selfless or noble than sacrificing one's life for a higher cause, particularly when that cause is the freedom and security of our fellow Americans. This is the reason the day is set aside to honor our military heroes who gave what Abraham Lincoln called their "last full measure of devotion" in defense of freedom.
Although Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, it is not an occasion for grief or mourning. Rather, it is a day for remembering and giving thanks. General George S. Patton said it best: "It is wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God such men lived." Indeed, we should. America has survived as a nation for more than 240 years because brave men and women are willing to die for an idea; the idea that God granted them, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
As citizens of this great country, we are able to enjoy the blessings set forth in the Declaration of Independence because God endowed us with these blessings and American heroes sacrificed their lives preserving them. As Americans enjoy Memorial Day cookouts and picnics, we pray they will stop long enough to remember why they are free to do so.
As citizens of the world's foremost bastion of liberty, we have long benefitted from the freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights. We must never take these or any of our rights for granted or forget those who sacrificed their lives preserving them for us. This is why it is so important to set aside one day out of the year to remember our fallen heroes and give thanks for them.
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II. Only a handful of the "Greatest Generation" remain. Others died fighting the tyranny of communism in the mind-numbing cold of Korea while outnumbered 10 to one.
On the heels of the Korean conflict, more than 12 million Americas donned the uniform to serve in what was called the "cold war," a decades-long conflict that was anything but cold. Then came the Vietnam War, during which more than 7 million Americans served and 58,267 warriors lost their lives.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, Americans have continued to sacrifice for freedom in far-flung hot spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. Therefore, on this Memorial Day, we encourage all Americans to remember our fallen heroes and pass down the stories of their sacrifices so future generations never forget.
Oliver L. North is a combat-decorated U.S. Marine, No.1 bestselling author, and founder and CEO of Fidelis Publishing LLC and Fidelis Media LLC.