Editor: Memorial Day to me is the most precious of all our national holidays—the day we set aside to honor those who sacrificed their precious lives so that this nation—conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal—could survive. On Memorial Day all across the land patriotic people gather to march in parades that invariably include many people in uniform honoring our country. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But this Memorial Day I believe comes at an unusually propitious moment in world history as we watch from afar the people of Ukraine fighting valiantly to defend their independence and freedom. To our credit we are providing them with the arms and support they desperately need to succeed. Were it not for the threat of a mentally disturbed dictator wielding nuclear weapons I have little doubt we would also have troops on the ground in Ukraine.
As always there are a few dissenters in our midst who oppose our support of Ukraine, but that is the nature of freedom. Democracy does not depend on unanimous votes. If it did, ours would have disappeared a long time ago. It is not human nature for everyone to fall in line when tough decisions are required. We call World War II “the good war” because it was a time of uncommon unity, but even then there were many Americans who withheld their support. Some were conscientious objectors. Some felt our involvement in World War II was a mistake. Others were simply recalcitrant. Still, when the chips were down, the “greatest generation” stood tall.
In my considered opinion, the most persuasive statement of our democratic values was not Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence or Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but rather Patrick Henry’s retort to a political opponent in the Virginia House of Burgesses during a debate about the American Revolution: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
That is a tough requirement in the best of times, but it is a core component of our democracy that is often neglected and in many cases simply not understood. The brave patriots in Ukraine are reminding us—at a critical time when we really need reminding—what freedom is all about. We have many brave patriots among us who carried our banner of freedom and democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who still bear the scars of those conflicts. Let us all pause from our labors and honor them as we honor the heroes of Ukraine. Wherever people put their lives on the line for freedom, we must always have their backs. The Ukrainians are thousands of miles away and speak a different language, but they are us and we are them. As long as brave people stand tall, freedom will live.
David W. Walker, President and CEO
Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes