As a kid, Memorial Day was a big deal: it marked the opening of the community pool, a week left in school and the official beginning of summer.
But as a grown man who watched friends and colleagues in service to our country leave for foreign lands to defend the freedoms I sometimes take for granted back home, I appreciate that Memorial Day marks so much more than a day at the beach. It is a time for remembrance, a time for gratitude, a time to reflect on the precious gift of freedom and the ultimate price that is paid to keep it.
On Memorial Day, citizens across America gather in their communities to pay tribute to those who paid that awesome price to preserve our liberties and our way of life.
President Ronald Reagan once remarked that “it is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the founding fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.”
This Memorial Day, as our troops prepare to come home and the bitter sting of war starts to fade, let’s do something more than just remember those who served in wars long ago. Let’s express our appreciation to those currently serving in our nation’s military whose sacrifice is not distant but closer to us. Memorial Day is not just about what we do or say on one day of the year, but rather about how we celebrate every day the men and women who, through their sacrifice, commitment and sense of purpose, still pave a path of freedom for America and the world.
From generation to generation, America has learned through the blood of its fallen the price of freedom and the burden of leadership.
Sometimes, it is true, we become caught up in things less important and do not remember, nor care to know, of the price paid for the freedom to protest, the freedom to vote or the freedom to live as one nation under God, indivisible and with justice for all. But our men and women in uniform never forget and for that we are grateful.
To our men and women who valiantly serve in our nation’s armed forces, permit me to paraphrase President Reagan: you’ve made this cherished land the last best hope of mankind. It was up to you, in your generation, to carry the hallowed task. It can now be truly said of you that you not only preserved the flame of freedom, but cast its warmth and light further than those who came before you.
Thank you for your service.
Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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