Reflections by Sammy Way: Fallen heroes have provided freedoms we now enjoy


Reflections honors those who gave the full measure of sacrifice to ensure our access to the many freedoms accorded to all American citizens on Memorial Day. The author has selected an editorial written by Hubert D. Osteen Jr., chairman and editor-in-chief of The Sumter Item, which was published in The Sumter Daily Item on May 24, 1992. This paper captures the significance and essence of why we dedicate this time each year to honor our fallen heroes. Photos and research data were obtained from The Sumter Item archives.

"In a sense, Abraham Lincoln inaugurated Memorial Day in 1863 when he gave a brief, powerful and timeless speech now known as the Gettysburg Address.

On that November day, the president who preserved the union was at the site of where a terrible battle had taken place on which thousands of Union and Confederate troops died. Trying to choose the right words to consecrate the battlefield, which had been designated a national cemetery, Lincoln was brief and to the point. 'The brave men living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.'

"These words more eloquently sum up what Memorial Day is all about than all the purple prose by every editorial writer who ever lived. Lincoln, overwhelmed by the destruction and horrendous human cost of a civil war that defined this nation, challenged his countrymen to not ignore the sacrifices made on a battlefield, to rededicate themselves to ensuring that the fallen soldiers did not die in vain.

"Out of the American Civil War came the first Memorial Day, in 1868, after Gen. John A. Logan called on soldiers and veterans to decorate military graves with flowers. Also known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is the only occasion this nation has to pay tribute to soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who died in service to their country.

"Many Sumterites were among those who fell from the Spanish-American War to the conflict in Afghanistan. Their names are remembered on the various monuments throughout our community. Most were young when they died, thus we will never know just how much more they could have contributed to their community, state and nation had they survived. That is the most poignant part of Memorial Day.

"Memorial Day is a reminder to the survivors of the dead soldiers, which includes all of us, to think long and hard about how terribly costly it is for a great nation to carry out its responsibility in a less-than-perfect world. And after doing that, we should all utter a small prayer of thanks for those Americans who fought the good fight - for all of us.

"As Lincoln himself said, 'It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.'"