By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2010 – Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember and honor the ultimate sacrifices made by past and present generations of U.S. servicemembers, President Barack Obama said yesterday during his weekly address to the nation.
Each year on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, America honors all of its citizens who've worn a military uniform, Obama said. Yet, Memorial Day is something different, he said.
"On this day," Obama said, "we honor not just those who've worn this country's uniform, but the men and women who've died in its service; who've laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who've given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.
"These are the men and women I will be honoring this weekend, and I know many of you are doing the same," said the president, who tomorrow will provide Memorial Day remarks at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.
From the Revolutionary War to the present day, generations of Americans have been willing to take up arms – and die, if necessary – in order to preserve the nation's freedoms, Obama said.
"That commitment that willingness to lay down their lives so we might inherit the blessings of this nation is what we honor today," Obama said. "But on this Memorial Day, as on every day, we are called to honor their ultimate sacrifice with more than words. We are called to honor them with deeds."
America also honors its fallen warriors, he said, by supporting the surviving family members who must carry on after their loved ones have passed.
"We are called to honor them by doing our part for the loved ones our fallen heroes have left behind and looking after our military families," Obama said. "By making sure the men and women serving this country around the world have the support they need to achieve their missions and come home safely. By making sure veterans have the care and assistance they need.
"In short," he continued, "by serving all those who have ever worn the uniform of this country and their families as well as they have served us."
Obama recalled a post-Civil War incident that occurred April 25, 1866, when a group of women in Columbus, Miss., visited a local cemetery to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers who had died during the Battle of Shiloh.
As the women placed the flowers, he said, they noticed that a nearby group of Union soldier graves was bare of flowers.
"But no one had come to visit those [Union] graves, or place a flower there," Obama said. The women, he said, then "decided to lay a few stems for those men, too, in recognition not of a fallen Confederate or a fallen Union soldier, but a fallen American."
A few years later, he said, a group of Civil War veterans established what eventually became Memorial Day, picking a date when the spring flowers are in bloom.
"So this weekend, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to hold all our fallen heroes in your hearts, and if you can, to lay a flower where they have come to rest," Obama said.