Republished from the May 30, 1942, issue of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune.
It is easy to speak impersonally of Memorial Day, as if it were an occasion set remotely on a hill. But what may be said when the anguish of sacrifice is in the hour's news, and those honored dead to whom we dedicate ourselves include the men and boys who lived with us but yesterday?
It is harder to speak of Memorial Day to the mother whose grief flows fresh, who only now has felt war's heavy pressures on her heart. To her, the day must be much more than solemn ceremonial; it is in fact the racking sense of human loss come home.
For her the soil of Bataan Peninsula may be forever sacred; on some far battlefront, the son she cherished may have died. And as she turns to the honest simplicities of this day devoted to the nation's war dead, she seeks again the reassurance that such sacrifice as hers was not in vain.
If that reassurance may be found in any single word, we think it may be found in "liberty." Since our nation was founded, Americans have died for liberty, and so made common cause with men whose passionate devotion to the cause of freedom has illuminated history almost from its first recordings. Thomas Jefferson said that "the ground of liberty must be gained by inches." The world gains it that way, in sweat and blood and tears, and yet it moves forever forward.
The eternal choice is between freedom and slavery, between the concept of man as an individual deserving to walk upon the earth in dignity, and the concept of him as the pawn and tool of despots. Men die today, and have always died, that other men may live in freedom and in decency tomorrow.
So in this war such names as Bataan and Corregidor take their place among the world's immortal symbols of man's willingness to die for freedom. In the American Revolution, the blood of brave men bought us liberty.
In the war between the states, we did not shrink from paying the awful price of freedom for the Negro slave. The oppressed Cubans were liberated in the war with Spain, and new inches were gained. In the World war, Americans dared to stand upon the side of those who raised the shield against despotic forces.
Now we are engaged in another struggle for human liberty. Now we face the choice between a world given over to the darkness of tyranny and oppression, or one liberated to the light of freedom. Before Corregidor and Bataan, there was St. Mihiel and Belleau Wood, Gettysburg and Bull Run, Yorktown and Valley Forge, all the heroic and embattled expressions of man's insistence on the breaking of some wretched shackles.
Today, a world part slave and part free is in the throes of conflict. Again Americans die to preserve and to extend their own good heritage of liberty.
On this Memorial Day, it would be heartless to deny that the price we pay to save our way of life is great. But for the peoples of the earth who love liberty, there can be no cautious weighing of the sacrifices. Either they must live darkly as slaves beneath the lash of the Hitlers and Himmlers and Yamashitas, or they must fight their way through to a sunlit, ordered world of freedom.
For all of today's heartaches there is this compensation: that the cause of freedom is the noblest for which men have ever died. Out of their sacrifices, the world goes forward, and from their selfless devotion we build the citadels of liberty without which no tomorrow would be worth enduring.