The High Cost of Forgetting | Opinion

Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day, began as a response to the carnage of the Civil War. After the war ended in the spring of 1865, Americans began holding springtime tributes by reciting prayers and decorating with flowers the graves of countless fallen soldiers. It was a way to remember those who had given, as President Abraham Lincoln beautifully said, "the last full measure of devotion" to defend their nation.

Three years later, Major General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued an order to set aside a unique day for Americans to place flowers on the graves of war heroes, and on May 30 of that year, the first Decoration Day was held at Arlington Cemetery.

After World War I, this special day was amended to include all men and women from our armed forces who gave their lives serving our nation. The name "Memorial Day" became more common and in 1971, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday.

If we do not make an effort to remember, then we will forget. If we do not preserve the memory of what once was, we lose meaning, lessons learned and victories won.

A recent survey revealed that a shocking number of Millennials and Generation Z do not have adequate knowledge of the Holocaust. When we fail to remember such tragedies, and the victories and sacrifices of those who have gone before us, we not only do a gross disservice to their legacies, but we also set ourselves up for compounded failure and even deeper, more devastating tragedy.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
A service member places a flag at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the “Flags In” ceremony ahead of the Memorial Day weekend at Arlington National Cemetery on May 27, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. For the first time in 20 years, members from all joint services worked to place flags at each of the 260,000 headstones in the cemetery. Arlington Cemetery recently announced they would be relaxing the visitor restrictions imposed at the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has affected ceremonies and traditions over the last year. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In the words of George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We forget at our own peril.

Religious faiths understand the crucial importance of remembering in a unique way. Jews and Christians are "memorial people" because the whole of their faith depends upon remembering. From the stones at the waters of the Jordan, to Passover and throughout the Bible, God sets up memorials. For Christians, the greatest memorial to mark freedom in Christ is the Lord's Supper. Every time we participate in communion, we hear Jesus' words, "Do this in remembrance of me."

The future of the United States depends on how well we collectively remember and cherish what liberty really is—God's hand of blessing upon us and freedom from the terror of tyranny. There is a high cost to forgetting.

On this Memorial Day, as you take time to remember the valor of those who have given their lives in service to our nation, join us at My Faith Votes in remembering the goodness of God in your own life and his many blessings upon our nation. I pray this would cause you to cherish your liberty in the United States, and give you boldness and hope for the future.

The book of John says, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." May God bless you and these United States of America. But more importantly, may God bless and comfort the loved ones of the brave men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion to this great nation.

Allen West is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and a former representative of Florida's 22nd District. In 2020, he joined My Faith Votes as a spokesperson to mobilize Christians to participate in elections. His newest book is "We Can Overcome: An American Black Conservative Manifesto.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.