Remembering the True Meaning of Memorial Day Op-Ed from Paul Cook
Memorial Day is our nation’s time to pause and remember the brave men and women who put on the uniform and sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom. Though it was not declared a national holiday until 1971, states throughout the nation had been holding observances for over a century. In years past, I joined other Members of Congress in participating in wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. This cemetery serves as a tribute to some of the greatest Americans to ever live. The feelings of patriotism, honor, and valor are omnipresent throughout the cemetery where our patriots rest in solemn repose.
Last year, I had the honor of laying a wreath for Sergeant John Taylor Blacknall. When Blacknall enlisted, he was assigned to the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division, the oldest unit in continuous service in the Virginia National Guard. On D-Day, his unit was one of the first to land on Omaha Beach. June 6, 1944 was also Sergeant Blacknall’s 32nd birthday. Instead of celebrating at home with his loved ones, he spent his birthday storming the beach and sacrificing his life to defend our freedom. His spirit lives on as a shining exemplar of our American values, and it saddens me to be unable to visit again this year.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis prevents most of the country from commemorating our fallen heroes in traditional ways through public ceremonies and outdoor remembrances. I understand it may feel discouraging that we cannot honor our fallen heroes as we did before the pandemic, but I urge everyone to exercise caution on this Memorial Day during your remembrances.
This year, many of us will remember our heroes from our homes. In 1918 during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic, a parade in Philadelphia meant to support troops during wartime led to thousands of deaths as the disease spread like wildfire through the city. It would be a tragedy if history were to repeat itself. We cannot allow this important occasion of remembering those who sacrificed their lives to keep us safe to be marred by a massive loss of life due to COVID-19.
As a combat veteran, this day of remembrance is particularly meaningful to me as I reflect on the service of those who honorably served alongside me but weren’t lucky enough to make it home. It is in their honor that, as a focus of my public service, I stand up for the men and women who keep us safe. We must all do our part to honor our sons and daughters who were lost in conflicts and wars; we should never forget their selfless and righteous sacrifices.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood on the battlefield at Gettysburg and implored America to resolve fully that the war dead shall not have died in vain. This year, I ask all of you to listen to President Lincoln and take time to remember that the cost of freedom has been the lost lives of our nation’s brave men and women. Let’s remember them today and never take our freedom for granted.