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Monday's Readers' Page centerpiece: Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle and others share thoughts on Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan stood on the cliffs of Normandy and asked the veterans of Pointe du Hoc the question, “Why?” Why did they take those cliffs? Why did they ignore their “instinct for self-preservation”?

He concluded that they found their motivation in “faith and belief ... loyalty and love.” I think when most of us reflect on the valor of our troops, we regard their actions with awe. We approach their combat stories with a sense of disbelief that these brave soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and guardsmen could be so valiant, could give so much in the cause of liberty.

For a time in our history, in the absence of sustained conflict, Memorial Day morphed into a holiday primarily for picnics and department store sales. Observance of Memorial Day became largely perfunctory — until Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon changed us as a people and, sadly, produced a new generation of honored dead.

Whether they be the young men who never made it up those cliffs but died on the beaches of Normandy, the soldiers still missing in the jungles of Vietnam or the Marines dying from improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, they died for us. Our remembrance should extend beyond the appropriate moment of silence, the solemn salute.

Memorial Day should be the most important holiday we commemorate as Americans, because its significance emanates from the essential truth that freedom is bought by sacrifice. There is nothing wrong with picnics and parades on Memorial Day, because we are celebrating our freedom. But as we celebrate our freedom, let us not forget its cost and the ultimate price paid by the people who bought it for us.

Please join me this Memorial Day in remembering our service members who died in the defense of our liberties. May God bless their memory. May God bless our current military and protect them from harm, and may God bless the United States of America.

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican, represents New York’s 25th Congressional District. She serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.