Memorial Day originated in the nineteenth century as a day to remember the U.S. soldiers who gave their lives in the American Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. It is the day Americans remember the military men and women who died while serving our country. It is a day when people decorate the graves of our fallen military heroes.  Memorial Day this year is May 27, 2024.

From World War I to today, more than 40 million Americans have served in the U.S. military.  Over 1,136,000 people were wounded in combat and 660,000 gave their lives for our country.

Hymn to the Fallen

John Williams’ beautiful song “Hymn to the Fallen” plays as the video visits cemeteries around the world where Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for freedom are buried.  The video also tells how many Americans are buried at each cemetery.

Duty, Honor Country

by Five Star General Douglas MacArthur

The motto of the United States Military Academy at West Point is “Duty, Honor, Country.” On May 12, 1962, retired 82-year-old U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, holder of the Medal of Honor and the leader of the Army in the Pacific theater during World War II, gave his now famous 34-minute “Duty, Honor, Country” speech without notes to the entire corps of 2,100+ West Point cadets. This speech is my favorite speech of all time on any topic. I re-read it several times a year because: (i) what the General says about military service and sacrifice and Duty, Honor, Country moves and inspires me, and (ii) what he said then is as true now as it has always been throughout the history of the U.S. military. I recommend you read the entire text of the speech and listen to an audio of the General’s speech.

Here are a few statements about military men and women from General MacArthur’s speech:

Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. . . .”

“It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast. . . .”

“I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood and sweat and tears as we sought the way and the truth and the light.”

Memorial Day Tribute

President Ronald Reagan’s tribute to veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The song you hear in the video is “Mansions of the Lord.” It was the song that was played at President Ronald Reagan’s funeral when his coffin was carried from the church. The lyrics are:

To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord

No more weeping,
No more fight,
No friends bleeding through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
Eternal light,
In the Mansions of the Lord

Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages let us keep
The Mansions of the Lord

Watch and listen to the cadets of the West Point Glee Club sing Mansions of the Lord.

Remember Me

by then 15 year old high school sophomore Lizzie Palmer

This is one of my all time favorite videos. As of Memorial Day 2018 32 million people have watched Lizzie’s video. This video is especially important on Memorial Day because its message is that our military personnel ask Americans to remember them.

I Fought for You

President Lincoln’s Letter to Lydia Bixby, Who Lost Five Sons in the Civil War

Executive Mansion Washington

Nov. 21, 1864

To Mrs. Bixby,

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Union Army Major Sullivan Ballou’s Last Letter to His Wife

A week before the Civil War Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the Second Rhode Island Volunteers, wrote home to his wife in Smithfield. Major Ballou says that his commitment to Duty, Honor & Country comes first ahead of duty to and love of his wife and children, even as it leads him to death in battle.

July 14, 1861

Sara Ballou

Washington, D.C.

Dear Sara,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps tomorrow. Less I shall not be able to write you again, I feel compelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure — and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the revolution. I am willing, perfectly willing, to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows — when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children — is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sara, my love for you is depth-less. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break. Yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me. I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them for so long. How hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes our hopes and future years when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been. How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, oh Sara, if the dead can come back to this earth and fly unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you on the brightest day and the darkest night. Always. Always. When the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath. When the cool air caresses your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sara, do not morn me dead. Think I am gone and wait for me. We shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Your loving husband,

Sullivan Ballou

A week after he wrote this letter, Major Ballou was killed at the first Battle of Bull Run.

More Reasons to Remember

Here are links to other inspirational statements made by and about our brave men and women who all Americans should remember on this Memorial Day:

  • Marine Sgt. Daniel Clay’s Letter to His Family – U.S. Marine SSgt. Daniel Clay was killed in action in Iraq on December 1, 2005. Before leaving home for his second tour in Iraq, Sgt Clay left a letter with his family and an instruction to open the letter only in the event of his death. A few quotes – note his references to duty and honor:

“What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our duty. That sounds simple. But all of us have a duty. Duty is defined as a God-given task. Without duty life is worthless. . . .”

“You all have your duties. Be thankful that God, in His wisdom, gives us work. Mine was to ensure that you did not have to experience what it takes to protect what we have as a family. This I am so thankful for. I know what honor is. It is not a word to be thrown around. It has been an Honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. . . .”

“I have been in the company of heroes. I now am counted among them. Never falter! Don’t hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting. . . .”

  • Army Sgt. Michael Carlson’s High School Paper – Wise beyond his years, Mike Carlson, who died in Iraq in 2005, wrote a credo paper his senior year in high school that moves everyone who reads it. Here is just a part of young 18-year-old Mike Carlson’s essay:

“I want to live forever; the only way that one could possibly achieve it in this day and age is to live on in those you have affected. I want to carve out a niche for myself in the history books. I want to be remembered for the things I accomplished. I sometimes dream of being a soldier in a war. In this war I am helping to liberate people from oppression.”

“In the end there is a big parade and a monument built to immortalize us in stone. Other times I envision being a man you see out of the corner of your eye, dressed in black fatigues, entering a building full of terrorists. After everything is completed I slip out the back only to repeat this the next time l am called. I might not be remembered in that scenario, but I will have helped people.”

  • Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion and Navy Lt. Brendan Looney -Tom Manion wrote a heartbreaking story in the Wall St. Journal called “Why They Serve—’If Not Me, Then Who?’” in which he said, “After more than a decade of war, remarkable men and women are still stepping forward.” Tom spent 30 years in the military and he writes about two graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy – his son Lt. Travis Manion and his son’s good friend Lt. Brendan Looney. When Lt. Manion was killed in Iraq in 2007 his good friend Lt. Looney was in training to be a Navy SEAL. Lt. Looney was devasted at the death of his friend. In 2010 Lt. Looney and 7 other Americans were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Lt. Manion and Lt. Looney are buried next to each other at in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Lt. Phil Clark (father – killed in action over North Vietnam in 1972) & Lt. Terry Clark (son – killed in an F-14 accident off the coast of San Diego in 1996), two Annapolis graduates and Navy pilots buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Phil’s father, Phil, Sr., was a long-time friend of my parents. I’ll never forget Colonel Phil Clark, Sr. (USAF ret.)., telling me how difficult it was for he and his wife Freda to go to Arlington National Cemetery twice, once to bury their son Phil and again to bury Terry, the grandson they raised after losing their son Phil and his young wife.

Captain Thomas A. Amos (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron) and Captain Mason I. Burnham (421st Tactical Fighter Squadron) were killed in action during an F-4D combat mission over Laos on April 20, 1972. Tom Amos was the only member of my squadron who was killed in action while the 35th TFS was on temporary duty from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, to Danang Air Base, South Vietnam, and Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972. See “35th Tactical Fighter Squadron MiG Kills.”

Military people risk their lives and die even during training. While I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, my squadron lost two men. Captain Tom Ballard and Lt. Ron Goodwin of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron were killed flying an F-4 during a nuclear bomb delivery training mission over Korea on February 16, 1973. They were on a typical F-4 training mission. Tom and Ron were tasked to fly a low-level route in their F-4D and deliver their first practice simulated nuclear bomb within 1,500 feet of the target plus or minus two minutes of a designated time over the target (TOT).  When they flew over the target on the bombing range at 500 feet above the water, their fake nuke bomb did not fall from their airplane.  Because he wanted the bomb to hit the ground within his TOT, Tom started a 360-degree low-level turn.  He put his head down in the cockpit to check the weapons switches, and the airplane flew into the water.  FYI:  500 knots is 845 feet per second.

In Remembrance of Edward Schwebel, USAF

I want to remember my good friend Ed Schwebel, 63, who died on May 11, 2010, from a fall off of a ladder. Ed and I were F-4 instructors in the 35th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at George Air Force Base, California. We were in the same squadron from 1973 to 1976. In 1973, Ed had just returned from a year of flying combat missions in the F-4 over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos. Peace brother and keep your mach up.

Woodrow Dutt & Elmer Dutt

My wife and I also want to remember her two uncles, Woodrow Wilson Dutt and Elmer F. Dutt, who were killed in action during World War II. Lt. Woodrow Dutt was a navigator on a B-17 who was wounded on a bombing mission over France and died from his wounds on July 9, 1944. Private First Class Elmer Dutt died in North Africa in 1943.

Harold R. Keyt, USAF, My Father

Last but certainly not least, I want to pay tribute and remember my wonderful father, Harold R. Keyt. Hal retired as a Major from the USAF after 20+ years of service. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, my Dad, like hundreds of thousands of other young men of that time, joined the Army Air Force to fight and serve. Without knowing if he would ever return to his family and the U.S., my Dad went to England and flew daylight bombing missions over Germany as a B-17 navigator. I love and miss you Dad.