O beautiful for heroes proved
/ In liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved /
And mercy more than life!
It is said that on a clear day from the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, one can see into neighboring Kansas over 300 miles away. And easily spot Mt. Princeton, the sentry overlooking OCF’s Spring Canyon Conference Center, about 100 driving miles to the southwest.
It was from atop Pikes Peak, while gazing at “the wonder of America” unfolding 14,110 feet below her, that Katharine Lee Bates forgot her grueling journey to the top–a jarring prairie wagon ride followed by straddling the back of mule.
And put the spectacular visual of spanning skies, royally robed mountains, abundant plains–and heroes’ sacrifices—to timeless song: “America the Beautiful.”
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! That lesser known, yet powerfully poignant verse in Bates’ much-beloved composition lies at the heart of the intention of Memorial Day—a day where America honors its military men and women who died while in service to our nation.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13, ESV).
Observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day’s roots go back to Decoration Day, 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery—an act towards reconciliation and healing against the dividing rift caused by the Civil War.
Through the years Memorial Day morphed from a remembrance specifically honoring Americans who died in all wars into an observance honoring deceased loved ones—whether or not they actually died while in service to their nation or even served at all.
Though Memorial Day now tends to be the unofficial start of summer, a three-day weekend of activities such as camping, going to the beach, or backyard barbecues, many communities–starting with Washington, DC—still celebrate Memorial Day as a day to honor our military men and women who paid for our nation’s freedoms with their very lives.
Activities abound in our nation’s capitol, including a parade of marching bands, patriotic floats, and veterans units from all fifty states, sponsored by the World War II Veterans Committee. At Arlington National Cemetery, continuing spirit of the original Decoration Day and with help from their brothers-and-sisters in arms of other military branches, soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the quarter-million plus gravestones.
Mirroring the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the sacrifices of our nation’s fallen military men and women underline an undeniable truth—freedom comes at a tremendous and priceless cost.