We owe them more than we could ever repay. Think of them this Memorial Day

Families visit graves of loved ones after Memorial Day ceremony at Biloxi National Cemetery, Monday, May 29, 2017.
Families visit graves of loved ones after Memorial Day ceremony at Biloxi National Cemetery, Monday, May 29, 2017. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Consider the words of President John Garfield on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery at the first national commemoration of Memorial Day.

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

In all the wars fought by the United States throughout its history, more than 1.3 million Americans were killed. More than half of those died in the Civil War, the costliest war in terms of loss of human life in our country's history.

We are honored to live in a country so magnificent that men and women willingly risk, and all too often sacrifice, their lives to defend it. They have our eternal gratitude.

In a perfect world, no more Americans would die in wars. But we know more will be called to duty and will gladly answer that call.

And Monday, as a long holiday weekend draws to a close, we ask our readers to set aside some time to contemplate the reason for Memorial Day. Too often, in the bustle of the holiday gatherings, we forget. Even surrounded as we are by Keesler Air Force Base, the Naval Construction Battalion Center, the National Guard and other military installations, we forget.

So pause and remember on Memorial Day, a commemoration that began as a day of healing, a heartfelt wish that the North and South could put aside the differences that almost destroyed the United States and live together in peace once again.

Our country emerged from that debacle stronger. Its men and women time and again called on to fight, not just to save our country, but in the 20th century to save the world.

These are the men and women the day is dedicated to. We should never forget. We should, as Gen. George S. Patton said, not mourn their deaths but thank God that they lived. And we do.

We suggest your weekend plans include a trip to Biloxi National Cemetery, to pass among the thousands of flags placed on the graves there. And remember each grave holds a story, each represents a life ended too early. We owe them more than we could ever repay.

And as we commemorate, we also celebrate. We celebrate the freedom so entwined with the veterans' sacrifice.

And we ask that you celebrate properly. If you drink do so in moderation. And if you are away from home, hail an Uber, a Lyft or a taxi. The men and women of public safety — the police, the firefighters, the emergency medical personnel — will thank you.

If you encounter one of these first responders, we hope it is to buy him or a cup of coffee or lunch.

Put down that phone, put on that seat belt and drive defensively.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.