On the cold afternoon of November 19, 1863 United States President Abraham Lincoln joined with over 15,000 people in a field on the outskirts of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The crowd was gathered for the purpose of dedicating the fresh graves of a newly created Soldiers National Cemetery; location of one of the most vicious and deadly battles of the raging Civil War.
The featured speaker of this event was U.S. Senator Edward Everett, a popular orator who chose to wax poetic for over two full hours to the [extremely patient] crowd. After he sat down, President Lincoln was asked to give “a few appropriate remarks” in closing. Lincoln spoke for only four minutes, and yet his words have become one of the most enduring and memorable speeches in American history. I feel his words stand as a solid American oath for Memorial Day, and an enduring anthem for every day.
“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.”
In 1995 American composer and acclaimed band conductor Robert E. Jager composed a beautiful song based on Lincoln’s famous address entitled “The Last Full Measure of Devotion“. The song has gone on to be arranged and performed by hundreds of soloists, bands, and choirs.
This weekend as Americans celebrate our annual Memorial Day holiday there are sure to be barbecues and camp-outs, family reunions and long-anticipated vacations, spring cleaning, yard work, and plenty of R&R. But, I hope we will each set aside time to remember those who have paved the way before, as well as those who are currently forging ahead. May we remember those who are sacrificing their time, putting their lives on the line, and serving with devotion. These are the heroes who continue to promote Lincoln’s prayer and the Memorial Day promise for a “new birth of Freedom” so that our warriors “shall not have died in vain“. – MoSop