Andy’s Letter: The Ultimate Sacrifice

“Ultimate” . . . it is the most superlative of superlatives, right? I mean what could be more of anything than ultimate. For that very reason, the word should rarely be used to describe something. And when it is used we should view it with skepticism in an attempt to decide if the thing is worthy of the meaning.

Webster’s Dictionary defines ultimate as EXTREME or UTMOST. These are words that we toss around with little regard for their actual meaning. Overused and perhaps somewhat diminished because of it, the word ultimate has a particular meaning this month that is perfectly appropriate.

You see, May is the month we celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day is the day set aside to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation. The men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedoms and American way of life. Certainly, ultimate is used most correctly here.

Sure it is a special day on which we get out of work and don’t have to go to school. It is the day that has to come to represent the unofficial start of summer. It is a holiday whose meaning has become tangled up with other holidays like Veterans Day and maybe even Flag Day, as they are both rather patriotic, too. Veterans Day is important but it celebrates all Veterans, living and dead, for their service to country. Memorial Day is about those who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, in service to country.

And so I am thankful, so very thankful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice down through the centuries. Every life was precious and was a brother, daughter, friend, mother, and/or even a grandparent to someone. Over 1.1 million U.S. men and women have given their lives in the nation’s wars. That is a lot of ultimate sacrifices. Though we will observe their selfless gift to our nation on Memorial Day, we should be thankful for every one of them every day of the year.

In our country the first Memorial Day was held three years after the Civil War. An organization of Union veterans decided to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and declared that May 30 should be known as Decoration Day. The date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom across the entire country by May 30. It developed over the years to include Confederate fallen soldiers and then finally those from all wars who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It also evolved from Decoration Day to the broader, more inclusive Memorial Day.

Special services to honor those who die in war can be found in ancient history, as well. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago when he said: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

So, for month #7 I am thankful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Intentional thankfulness for twelve months. A year of thanks. Have you joined the gratitude gang, yet? “How Thankful Are You?”

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