Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
Although spoken by Winston Churchill to RAF airmen engaged in the Battle of Britain, his words ring true for every nation similarly “conceived in liberty.” These are the nations, like ours, who rely on generations of the few to safeguard the lives of the many.
How are we, the many, to properly memorialize those few? How do we honor the abridged lives of those who gave their “last full measure of devotion?” How do we regard survivors who remain in profound grief? How do we reflect upon a child who writes letters to a parent they never knew, about a life they could never share?
This Memorial Day weekend, we will be reminded about celebrating more than the unofficial beginning of summer and an extra day of vacation. We will be reminded to “never forget.” Parades will take place. Wreaths will be laid. Speeches will be given. Flags will be lowered. Taps will be played.
All this will happen against the backdrop of a disease that has taken more American lives than any military conflict apart from our Civil War. Death is very real. Grief is very fresh.
It will also happen during a time in which our nation struggles to find consensus over words like liberty, duty, honor, justice and equality. We live in a cynical age—cynical about our leaders, our institutions, and our governance. The Code of the U.S. Fighting Force begins, “I am an American, fighting in the forces that guard my country and our way of life.” Yet, we are increasingly challenged to agree upon what “our way of life” truly means.
Against this backdrop, therefore, it seems that we are called to memorialize the few with more than parades, wreaths, and lowered flags—noble as those may be. We are called to uncover values they sought to live by before they were laid to rest. When words like “service before self” become more than mottos and catchphrases, we more closely identify with those we seek to honor. When we live in ways that transcend our personal desires, ambitions and comfort, we better salute those who went before us who did the same.
As Christians, offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” is nothing new. Jesus told us “…when you have done everything you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” And what is that duty? What does the Lord require of us? “To act justly, to love faithfulness and to walk humbly with your God.”
It seems that in this way, on Memorial Day and every day, we who are among the many may better honor the few—and the One.
Dr. G. Lane Cohee is associate dean of PBA’s Rinker School of Business, where he is associate professor of management. He is a 1983 graduate of New Mexico Military Institute, a 1987 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a former Air Force commissioned officer. Uncited quotations are from Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, Air Force Core Values, Romans 12:1, Luke 17:10 and Micah 6:8.