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This column is an adaptation of the words we spoke at the Paxton Memorial Day service:
I hesitate to speak of heroics and valor on this day of remembrance. Those thoughts need not be spoken; they should be embedded in the collective conscious of America. In today’s world, the word “hero” has been degraded to describe everyday human behavior. We must strive to remember that the true meaning of “hero” is embodied in the individuals we honor on Memorial Day.
President Lincoln, after the Civil War, reminded the nation to never forget those who have given their all to protect the freedom we all share in America. Today, we keep that idea alive by gathering on Memorial Day to spend time in quiet prayer, reflection, and in thanks to God that he created the men and women who have died in defense of our country.
The Bible verse, John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends”, is often quoted as a fitting epitaph for those individuals we honor on Memorial Day.
But another verse comes to mind that may describe a motive of those we honor today and all who have served in our military as to why they would risk life and limb in defense of our country.
Luke 11:21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe.”
Last week, after the last day of the legislative session in Lincoln, Barb and I went to Northeastern Nebraska to visit the graves of our parents and extended family, many of whom served in the armed forces of this great country.
One of the annual stops we make is to a beautiful country cemetery that lies at the end of the driveway of the farm where I grew up. There, I visit the graves of childhood friends and mentors.
As we were leaving I took note of the 15 foot cross embedded in an outdoor altar that stands at the center of the cemetery. The monument is in honor of PFC Harold Eikmeier, a local farm boy who, in 1944, died in battle in the service of his country.
My childhood was spent attending school and church at this country parish. I knew the monument was there, but had never taken time to contemplate its meaning.
It finally dawned on me what Harold had died for… his nephews were my childhood friends; his brothers were mentors, baseball coaches, and 4-H leaders; his mother and father were pillars of that small rural community.
It became clearer why American men and women risk all in war: their legacy is the lives their family and neighbors are able to live in freedom, the ability to attend that country church without fear, the right to own their home and farm. Privileges that their ancestors did not have just a couple of generations before in the lands they left behind to be free in America. NO: Freedom is not Free.
Harold Eikmeier’s grave, was a bugle call to me; Memorial Day is a time of thanksgiving to God and to honor those who died to protect our fragile freedom. On future Memorial Day weekends, I will first seek the graves of our heroes before I visit the resting places of family and friends. It is because of their sacrifice that our family members can rest in peace.
The individuals who we honor on Memorial Day laid down their lives so we can freely gather on this or any other day. It is our duty to continue their legacy. America must never forget or take for granted the sacrifices that have been made by others to protect the gifts that God has given us and those strong men and women died protecting.
I leave you with these reminders from a couple of American patriots. President Thomas Jefferson is often attributed to saying, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. Mark Twain so aptly used his common sense to convey the same message when he said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and supporting your government when it deserves it”.