America is the great nation that it is because we revere and honor the memory of brave souls who gave their lives to preserve it. Let the memory and sacrifices of those who have come before, for liberty purchased at such an immeasurable price for future generations, be forever written in our hearts.
“Whether we observe the occasion through public ceremony or through private prayer, Memorial Day leaves few hearts unmoved. Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.” (President George Herbert Walker Bush, Proclamation 6442—Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 1992)
Regardless of one’s faith tradition, one must acknowledge that the Bible is one of the greatest books in all human history. Many expressions we use daily come from it, and people often use biblical phrases without ever knowing it. In Jeremiah, from the Old Testament, one such memorable phrase relates to the covenant that God made with Israel. Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV) reads, in part, “I will put my law in their minds and will write them on their hearts.” This is repeated in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews (10:16, NIV), which reads, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
While biblical scholars may disagree on the specific meaning of this verse, it is generally believed to indicate that the laws, in this case from God, are followed not merely out of obedience, but because we accept them as part of us at a much deeper level. Those with the laws written in their hearts live those laws as part of their very being.
I am partial to President H.W. Bush, who I quoted above, for personal reasons. He was my Commander-in-Chief during the war, that I was part of as an Army Officer, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Like hundreds of thousands of others who served then, and millions and millions who have served in other conflicts, I had raised my hand and taken an oath to defend the United States Constitution. While military oaths differ, every military member, regardless of rank, swears “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” That defense of the Constitution, for some, includes making the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day is unlike any other holiday, in that it remembers those who died to write the laws of the U.S. Constitution in our hearts and on our minds. On this special day, all Americans remember those who have, as was movingly described by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address (1863), given the “the last full measure of devotion” so that the ideals reflected in the U.S. Constitution would endure. As Lincoln said, those who gave that last full measure, did so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Constituting America’s mission is to educate, empower, and inspire. We do this by teaching the relevancy of the U.S. Constitution and the principles of self-governance inherent in our founding documents. That relevancy is more than just the legal principles of the Constitution, or even the ideals detailed in our founding documents. It comes from the meaning and significance that those principles and ideals promote in how we live our lives, both as individuals and as members of the national community. Those we remember on Memorial Day made the ultimate sacrifice for those principles and ideals, and lived them to the fullest, ensuring our nation would endure. From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg, Antietam to the Ardennes, from Iwo Jima to Seoul, and Ia Drang to Mogadishu, as well as many other places and battles known and unknown, Americans have bravely sacrificed their lives to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. The memory of each of those who died lives in the hearts of all patriots, and their sacrifice ensures that the Constitution lives there along with them.
So, on this Memorial Day, as we celebrate with friends and family, enjoy the emergence of summer, and bask in the bounty that we have been blessed with, let us rededicate ourselves to remembrance, so that those who died to make us free live forever in our hearts and on our minds. Let us also educate new generations about the sacrifices that have come before, so that what was purchased at such great price will inform how we live today, and how we persevere in days to come. Let us all dedicate ourselves, as those who died did, to the preservation of our great nation, and let us inspire all future generations to do the same.
As President Calvin Coolidge wrote on May 30, 1923, it is “to the spirit that places the devotion to freedom and truth above the devotion to life, that the nation pays its ever enduring mark of reverence and respect.”
The Constitution is more than just a legal document. It is the embodiment of what makes America the great nation that it is. Hundreds of thousands of brave souls have died to preserve it. Let their memory always be in our hearts, and let the Constitution be written there also. We must never take for granted what has been bequeathed to us by generations past. Let the Constitution be part of our being. In that way we will honor those who died to make it so.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” (President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961)
Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.