Observations on Memorial Day, 1996

by Jesse Brown
Secretary of Veterans Affairs

**

Memorial Day has traditionally been one of the most solemn and patriotic days for Americans.

Rightfully so.

Memorial Day is a day when all Americans, regardless of ideologies, race, creed, or political persuasion, join together to remember the sacrifices of those who answered their nation's call.

The significance of this day is sometimes confused or distorted. The true meaning of Memorial Day becomes at times, distant or vague, lost to commercialism, or drowned in forgetful indulgence. Sometimes, there is a failure to recognize the magnitude of the deeds of the men and women who held true to the notion that evil and tyranny must not prevail.

It is our sacred duty to keep the legacy of our nation's patriots forever fresh in the memories of future generations. We are bound by honor to do so. They fought and died to preserve this land of hopes and dreams.

Without the courage, valor and singleness of purpose of our nation's veterans, the values that have always made it possible for us to meet new challenges, and move forward as a nation, would have been lost.

The freedoms that so many Americans enjoy did not come cheaply. They were paid for with the flesh and blood of American servicemen and women, and with the tears of those whose lives were changed forever by the loss of a loved one.

Memorial Day is a day of opportunity to give thanks for all that we are blessed with. It should also be a day that we rededicate ourselves to our country and to America's living veterans and their families in memory of the sacrifices they and others have made.

Veterans will gather to honor fallen comrades on this day -- friends with whom they shared a foxhole or a meal. Their time together may have been brief, but the bonds were deeply formed. Life and feelings are intensified when there is sharing of hardship and laughter; fear and loss.

As Americans pay tribute to those who perished, we must be determined to assure that those who served and returned to us receive proper care and compensation for their wounds and infirmities. We must insist that every veteran has an opportunity for employment, education, and a home in which to live. We must vow that our veterans be treated with the dignity and respect they so richly deserve.

To properly honor our dead, we must honor our living. The defenders of this Nation have fulfilled their obligations to us; it is now our duty to honor all of the obligations owed to them.

Every Department of Veterans Affairs employee understands and appreciates the tremendous burdens and challenges many veterans are faced with. That is why "Putting Veterans First" is more than just a motto with the people at the VA. It is what they believe in; it is what they do.

It is a responsibility with which we all are charged -- to do our best to repay the debt that is owed to those who have presented us with our most precious gift ... freedom.