VOICES: For Memorial Day, remember those who bought and paid for our freedoms with sacrifice

“We have seen him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps. As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free.”

There are American veteran cemeteries all over the United States, hallowed ground, the last resting place of our honored dead, places that mark the sacrifice of millions of Americans in the cause of freedom. Over half were first constructed after the Civil War. These legions of the dead did not serve the ranks of conquering armies. These veterans’ graves mark the place of liberators. Sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives. Living flesh, flesh of our flesh taken from us in the prime of their glory, cut down in their serried ranks serving the cause of freedom.

Opened in 1867, the Dayton VA cemetery is the last resting place of over 51,000 honored dead. Here rest 33 veterans of the War of 1812. Private Charles A. Taggart, Co. B. 37th Massachusetts Infantry won the Medal of Honor by capturing a Confederate Battle Flag at Sayler’s creek on April 6, 1865. Lieutenant Henry W. Downs received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous bravery at the Battle of Winchester on September 19th 1864. Seaman John H. James received the Medal for his actions at Mobile Bay on August 5th 1864.

Joshua Dunbar was a veteran of the all Black 55th Massachusetts, and the 5th Mass. Cavalry. His son was the renowned poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Henry Parker and Joshua Williams are Black Civil War veterans. Buried here are veterans from the 7th Cavalry’s Little Big Horn, Spanish American War, First World War, Second World War, Korea, Vietnam and at least one Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are thirteen U.S. cemeteries in Europe cradling the bodies of over 89,000 U.S. soldiers, row on row of white crosses, stars of David and markers for the unknown from the First and Second World Wars. Overlooking Omaha Beach is the cemetery at Colleville sur Mer, where it is almost impossible to maintain your composure when walking that ground. There are 53,000 U.S. soldiers, airman, marines, and sailors buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii and 17,000 at the Manilla American Cemetery.

We raise our arm on joining the armed forces and swear to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. The idea is that all men are entitled to a democratic government dedicated to their general welfare and protected by the rule of law. For over two hundred years, we have lived without a king or dictator. The men present at the founding knew this was a novel idea, an exceptional idea. They counted on an informed and literate citizenry to participate in this government and they knew we could lose it to some grand imposter.

This government survived a Civil war caused by slavery. We could not be a nation divided against itself, half free and half slave. The Civil War brought forth another new nation that was all free from Florida to Maine and New York to California. The idea survived because of the “watch fires of those hundred circling camps.” This Memorial Day some call for a separation, a division of this nation that all the armies of the night have been unsuccessful in causing. Have we had another Dred Scott moment brought by men and women who are unelected anointed by others making millions from hate and fear? Have we forgotten those who bought and paid for our freedoms with the sacrifice of their blood? Will we let the “last best hope of man” pass from our hands? Never.

David Madden is a retired trial attorney. He was an Infantry platoon leader and LTC in the JAG Corps.

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