“At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. fought in the Civil War, enlisting with the Massachusetts militia during his senior year of college. He suffered numerous wounds and nearly died of dysentery.
After three years, in 1864, Holmes was able to walk away from military service. He would go on to live another 71 years, ultimately becoming one of the best-known and most oft-cited U.S. Supreme Court Justices in history. (He defined “clear and present danger,” for example.)
Holmes would serve all the way until just a couple of months before his 91st birthday. His was a full and vibrant life.
Unfortunately, so many of the men Holmes fought with and against in the Civil War did not make it home. Nor have so many of the men and women who have fought in the wars that have occurred since. So much life unlived. So much potential unable to be fulfilled.
Today, those of us in the U.S. pause to honor these men and women — those whose lives ended, as Holmes wrote, “at the grave of a hero.”
As Ronald Reagan said, “It’s a day to be with the family and remember.”
We’ll be back tomorrow with our usual content schedule.
By the way, if you’re interested in learning the history of Memorial Day — did you know it was originally called “Decoration Day” or that a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time? — here is a short video and article from the History Channel.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via A Nowak.