Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Whereas Armed Forces Day pays tribute to those currently in service and Veterans Day celebrates those who have served in the past, Memorial Day honors those who died in military service.
Arlington National Cemetery, across the bridge from the Lincoln Memorial, was established late in the Civil War on land that had previously belonged to Robert E. Lee. It is the most famous and largest national cemetery, but it is only one of 147 official national cemeteries designated to hold the remains of our nation’s military departed. Another in the national capital region is the Annapolis National Cemetery. Illinois hosts the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
I recently visited the Arlington National Cemetery where I met up with an old friend of sorts. Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln is buried in a large above ground tomb. He is the only one of the Lincoln family not buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Robert had served as a Captain under General Ulysses Grant’s command at the end of the Civil War and was present at Appomattox and met General Robert E. Lee during the surrender. Robert would later serve as Secretary of War under President James Garfield (continuing under President Chester A. Arthur after Garfield’s assassination).
In these current troubling times, it is critical that we use this Memorial Day to honor “those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” Furthermore, as Lincoln noted in his dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.