They Died so Freedom Can Endure

By Christian Milord
Christian Milord
Christian Milord
Christian Milord is an Orange County, California-based educator, U.S. Coast Guard veteran, and writer. He graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1977 and received his M.S. in Education Administration at California State University–Fullerton (CSUF) in 1988. He currently mentors students at CSUF and participates in library literacy programs.
May 25, 2023Updated: May 25, 2023


Although most folks look forward to barbecues and family activities during the Memorial Day weekend, this special holiday has a fascinating history.

A soulful poem, which expresses the reflective and sobering mood of commemoration, was written by Herman Melville following the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April of 1862. Ironically, much of this horrific battle was fought around the area of a house of worship. There is a similarity between this poem and the elegy, “In Flanders Field,” penned by Canadian poet John McRae to honor the fallen soldiers of World War I, or Theodore O’Hara’s “Bivouac of the Dead.”

Shiloh (A Requiem) by Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low,
Over the fields in clouded days
The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
Fame or country least their care
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Memorial Day originally evolved out of the ravages of the Civil War, yet inspiring lines from poems such as these are often recited on Memorial Day or are inscribed at national cemeteries as a tribute to deceased warriors. After the Civil War ended, Confederate and Union veterans began to lay flowers on the graves of slain soldiers to honor them, similar to a Greek tradition practiced in ancient times.

No one knows for sure who organized the first “Decoration Day” ceremonies. However, ceremonies and parades gained momentum after Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, who was Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, authorized Decoration Day in May of 1868. After the first official proclamation, ceremonies accelerated to honor soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Over time, the last Monday in May came to be recognized as the date to pay respect to those who fell in battle, and national monuments on hallowed ground were built.

Following World War I, Decoration Day gradually was renamed Memorial Day. Eventually it included veterans of all wars who fought and died while defending the ideals of our democratic republic. On that day, services are held at cemeteries and national memorials to commemorate our military veterans and acknowledge that they did not perish in vain.

Now that our brave military personnel are deployed around the globe, it is relevant to reflect on their sacrifices and service to humanity. Members of the armed forces who have lost their lives ought to be honored for their courage. Moreover, those who survive should have our full support as they endure the difficult challenges of devastating warfare and the transition back home.

Memorial Day teaches us that fighting for liberty is not merely a one-time event that was earned following the Revolutionary War. If we take freedom and security for granted, it can be eroded and subverted by those who detest freedom and the rule of law. Liberty is a precious gift that we must preserve and protect for current and future generations.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have remarked, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans that the soldiers who perished had died to preserve and renew the noble cause of freedom. Ronald Reagan wisely noted, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Each generation must do its part to defend our God-given liberties.

Although veterans fully understand their own commitment, non-veterans can still appreciate this devotion to freedom and security. In a free society, we ought to be grateful every day that we have a professional military that functions with civilian oversight from Congress and the Executive Branch.

This Memorial Day and every day, let us honor all the valiant heroes who have paid the ultimate price with their lives in past and current conflicts. Let us also remember that many highly motivated Americans continue to proudly serve their country with honor. During these challenging times, we ought to pray for their health and safety.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.