Memorial Day: ‘We remain the land of the free only because we have been the home of the brave’

May 25, 2020 Updated: May 25, 2020

The following Memorial Day remarks were made by Ambassador Fred J. Eckert, representing President Ronald Reagan, at Anzio Beach Battlefield in Nettuno, Italy, one of the great battlefield areas of World War II, on May 20, 1988, before an audience of U.S. military and civilian officials.

We gather today to remember—and to revere—those who gave their lives defending America. To them, and to those who stood with them and by them, we owe our freedom.

Memorial Day is a day to remember that freedom is not free. The long rows of graves here in the countryside near Anzio, so far from our homeland, like so many other graves around the world, like the wounds and scars so many have suffered, are reminders that others bore heavy burdens and paid painful prices to preserve our freedom.

memorial day
Scott Gauser of Brooklyn, N.Y., pays his respects to former Marine Nielsen Paul, who was his best friend, at Long Island National Cemetery on May 24, 2020 in Farmingdale, N.Y. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Memorial Day is a day to remember death. To remember pain. To remember suffering. To remember the agony of war. To hope and pray that Plato was wrong when he said that only the dead have seen the end of war. And to remember that there are things so precious as to be worth fighting and dying for.

Memorial Day is a day to think of peace. We yearn for peace. Yearning is not enough. Peace, like freedom, has a price. The same price: courage. The courage to pay the price and bear the burden of keeping America strong enough to prevail against the evil that confronts us. There is no better way we can honor those who gave us freedom and those who fought to keep us free than to ensure that our heritage of freedom shall not perish.

It is fashionable today in some narrow but often influential circles to search for excuses to ridicule those who serve in our military, to belittle their efforts to defend us against our adversaries, to portray our own country as the impediment to a better world and to profess belief in the incredibly absurd notion that there is a moral equivalency between we who are the defenders of freedom and those who have already enslaved millions and still seek to enslave us. Fashionable—but foolish. Dangerously foolish.

There are those—some well-intentioned, some not, some merely naive, some bent on appeasement—who foolishly, often arrogantly, claim monopoly on commitment to achieving peace. Disparaging defense, scorning the soldier, quick to criticize America and just as quick to apologize for our adversaries, they arrogate to themselves the label “peace activists.” They are wrong.

memorial day
Louise Lombardi of Baldwin, N.Y., visits the gravesite of her father Joseph Lombardi who was a World War II Veteran at Long Island National Cemetery on May 24, 2020, in Farmingdale, N.Y. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace,” said General Douglas MacArthur, “for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Think about that the next time you see some of these misguided self-proclaimed activists who cannot bear the thought of action in defense of freedom ridiculing our military. Remember that there are no finer activists for peace anywhere in the world than the men and women who serve in the military forces of the United States of America. Nor none more effective.

Memorial Day is a day to remember that we remain the land of the free only because we have been the home of the brave.

memorial day
World War II Army Veteran Angelo Salerno points to the gravesite of his brother Peter Salerno who also served in World War II at Long Island National Cemetery on May 24, 2020 in Farmingdale, N.Y. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

As we gaze across the long rows of graves and the hundreds of small American flags blowing gently in the breeze we think of the land we love and the freedom we cherish. And we remember those who preserved and protected America and freedom.

If those Americans who stood guard and kept us free at Anzio and all the other battlefields throughout our history could ask a question of us it might well be that great question from our national anthem:  “Does that star spangled banner still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Because of them, and because of those who stood with them and by them, it does.

May it always.

Fred J. Eckert is a former Member of Congress and twice served as a U.S. Ambassador under President Ronald Reagan who called him “a good friend and valued advisor … one of a kind … a man of great experience and wisdom” and declared, “He has a quality that is all too rare in the political world, he has political courage; I know, for I have been a personal witness to that courage.”