Memorial Day 2024, Let Not The Dead Have Died In Vain

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

In 1971 Memorial Day officially became a Federal holiday and has been observed every year since.  Prior to 1971, however, the annual observance of a day to honor fallen soldiers still occurred, dating back to the end of the Civil War. The earliest known report of what was then called “Decoration Day” is from the New York Tribune.

According to the article the first Memorial Day was held in Charleston, SC, when a group of African-Americans, mostly former slaves, gave 257 Union soldiers a proper burial. The Black community in Charleston then consecrated the new cemetery with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people,” led by 3,000 Black school children.  It occurred on May 1, 1865, barely two weeks after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Eighteen months before his death, President Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with 271 words which have echoed through the ages but no more loudly than they do today.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. 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.”

“…government of the people, by the people, for the people…” – in a word, democracy.  Since the Civil War, our democracy has never been under more serious attack than it is today.  The former President along with his acolytes and sycophants have said in print and out loud that, if elected this year, they will turn their backs on our Constitution, ending our democratic rule of law.  The conservative, religious autocracy they will install in its place would be an affront to and desecration of everyone who has died in service of our nation for 248 years.  They spit on every tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery and across the country.


When President Biden lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery bear in mind, it was once Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plantation until he betrayed America leading the Confederate army’s fight to destroy this nation and keep millions of Black people enslaved.  360,222 Union soldiers died fighting Lee and his traitorous army.

It is hard to deny that history is repeating itself and today America is in a “cold” civil war. It will be doubly hard to mourn the millions of lives lost in her defense next Memorial Day if we allow a would-be dictator to be elected 47th President of the United States. — their sacrifice will have been for nothing.

We often think of “memorial” as a static thing, an object, or to stop for a moment. It’s time we think of it as an action, a directed purpose, to honor and memorialize the fallen by ensuring, and fortifying our American democracy and protecting it from its enemies within.

The Union soldiers first honored in 1865 saved the nation for us.  Generations since have protected it from fascism, communism, and dictators. The greatest honor we could lay at their graves is repaying them on November 5th by actively engaging and participating in the democracy they defended.  We must vote for democracy to ensure that it continues for generations to come.

Related post: “Assignment: Democracy – 7 Things You Can Do”

Today when you hear “Taps” stop, reflect, and respect the sacrifice of the fallen; but let it also be the clarion’s call to protect truth and our democracy that these dead shall not have died in vain.

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