Next week, like millions of other Americans, we will fly our flag outside our house to honor Memorial Day. It is a tradition my wife brought into our marriage from her father who served in the Pacific during World War II. All across our country the stars and stripes will unfurl in the breeze, lifting and dropping, whipping and snapping above the roof tops of schools, factories and government buildings; above parks, parades and cemeteries. Millions will stand to their feet in stadiums, hands over hearts, and sing of the broad stripes and bright stars reflected by bombs bursting through the night.
Forty eight years after Fort McHenry, this flag hung in ominous stillness above Fort Sumter. During the Civil War it led the way into man-made storms of grape-shot and cannon fire to the sound of screaming men and thundering horses. Almost a century later it was raised above the black sands of Iwo Jima where young Marines gave their lives to lift its blood stained cloth above their heads and let it fly on the enemy hill. The same flag still stands on Tranquility Base where the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind. We have all stood at the graveside of flag draped coffins and many have held the crisply folded flag to their breast, solemnly handed to them by white gloved soldiers.
This Memorial Day the flag reminds us that we are still an experiment. Two and a quarter centuries is a very short time and our nation is still relatively young. Lincoln’s prophetic words at Gettysburg still ring true. We are a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our generation, like every other generation must rise to the test to prove whether “that nation, or any other nation so dedicated and so conceived can long endure.”
Every Memorial Day we are called to a new resolve that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Across the years our nation has fought and won battles and wars on virtually every continent. Memorial Day helps us remember young men and women who gave their lives in obedience on those battle fields. But the most important battles to be fought for the future of our nation will not be with missiles and guns.
The most important battles to be fought will be found in the hearts of men and women. The preservation of our nation, its hopes, dreams and ideals, depends on the character of its people and their leaders. Honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity and goodness are the elements that will determine the ultimate outcome of the battles and wars that have been fought in our nation’s past.
In Proverbs, the Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov. 14:34) Isaiah says, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa. 42:1).