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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Acknowledge cost of freedom on Memorial Day

The Columbian
Published: May 25, 2024, 6:03am

Memorial Day can mean different things to different Americans. Barbecues, auto racing, the unofficial start of summer — they all come to mind with the annual three-day weekend. But at some point between the hamburgers and the beverages, Americans should pause to acknowledge the meaning behind the most solemn of national holidays. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with saying: “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”

From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, across more than two centuries of conflicts in defense of our nation’s ideals, more than 1 million Americans have been killed while serving in this nation’s military. They have died after heeding the call of their country, typically in far-away lands while battling the forces of despots and tyrants, and they are the reason for Monday’s holiday.

That is what separates Memorial Day from Veterans Day. Nov. 11 honors all who have served in the armed forces, while this weekend acknowledges those who have died in that service. As author Tamra Bolton is credited with saying: “This is the day we pay homage to all those who didn’t come home. This is not Veterans Day, it’s not a celebration, it is a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of freedom.”

That cost can be extraordinary, and it creates a shared sense of purpose while touching every part of our nation.

The Clark County Veterans War Memorial at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, for example, includes hundreds of names of those who have perished defending our nation. They range from the Spanish American War to the recent Global War on Terrorism, representing heroes who have provided us with the freedoms we enjoy today.

The local memorial was dedicated in 1998, supplanting an earlier iteration that had been built in 1945 at the Clark County Courthouse. According to the Historical Marker Database: “Several years ago it was discovered that names were missing from that memorial. Because of the smaller size, age and handicap inaccessibility of the original memorial, it was thought a new memorial might be in order.”

Memorial Day observances are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday in Vancouver, Washougal and Battle Ground. The Vancouver event, at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, will include a garrison flag raising, cannon firing and wreath-laying ceremony.

“The Vancouver Barracks and the service members that called this place home represent a pivotal component of this park’s history,” site Superintendent Tracy Fortmann said. “The post is much more than just a collection of buildings; they are a visible reminder of our shared 19th and 20th century military history.”

The event continues an American observance that grew out of the Civil War. It is incongruous that many Memorial Day traditions began in the former Confederate states, where those who fought against the United States were honored. But those traditions have spread into a national day of remembrance in which all Americans can partake.

At a time when our nation is particularly polarized, Memorial Day takes on added meaning. Many have died defending our right to embrace the freedoms afforded by the United States — our right to squabble among ourselves and our right to disagree about beliefs significant and trivial.

In embracing those rights this weekend, all Americans should take time to remember the cost of freedom and those who have paid a price to defend it.