They Gave the 'Last Full Measure of Devotion.' Here's What We Need to Do to Honor Them

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mother and toddler holding flags
A mother and her child helped place flags at the cemetery in Monterey, California. (Joseph Kumzak/DVIDS)

Rep. Don Young is the U.S. representative for Alaska's at-large congressional district and an Army veteran.

In 2019, I wrote an op-ed expressing what I believe, as a former soldier myself, to be true: Veterans want to know that their service and sacrifice were worth something. They want to know that the months and years they spent away from their homes and loved ones were worth it. They want to know that their brothers and sisters in arms -- whom they buried -- died for a reason. They want to know that their sacrifice mattered.

It has been two years since I wrote that piece; what has happened in that time? A contentious election, wide political unrest and a global pandemic, among other things. When I swore in Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker of the House at the beginning of the 117th Congress, I stated on the House floor, "I will be honest: I do not like what I see. It's time we hold hands and talk to one another."

Americans just like you and me have witnessed fractures from across our nation. Too often, we have rejected respect for one another, and engaged in bitter resentment toward our fellow countrymen. It is long past time for us to embrace fundamental truths that we used to take for granted. Political disagreement doesn't need to lead to cruel dissension, and instead can foster productive discourse and dialogue. A difference of opinion need not fracture family or end friendships, but can begin a conversation.

I know we will never all agree on every issue. As the former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, once said, "If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist."

We can have a strong difference of opinion; that is the sign of a healthy country. But at the end of the day, we must still stand side by side and work together to make this a better country. For almost 250 years, this is what our service members have fought and died for.

Those we honor this Memorial Day gave their lives so that we could create a country worthy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As President Abraham Lincoln said, these heroes gave their last full measure of devotion. They died defending a nation that they loved. To love a nation means to respect every part of it. Respect that we have the right to differ, respect the rule of law, and respect that we have a right to choose our own destinies. We must recommit ourselves to this noble goal.

As fun as they can be, this day means far more than backyard barbecues and an afternoon by the pool. Too many have lost a child, parent or spouse in service to our nation. Our veterans deserve to know that the sacrifices made by their fallen brothers and sisters in arms were not in vain. Let us use this Memorial Day to honor the fallen by striving to be better neighbors and aspiring to our better angels. It is time to again show the world that we are greater than the sum of our differences.

But most importantly, those veterans who lost someone close to them in defense of our nation must know that their sacrifice means something. Our fallen gave everything to preserve this grand experiment called America. Today and every day, we must live lives worthy of those who gave everything so that we might be free. We will never forget them.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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