Our “last full measure of devotion”

May 28, 2013

Today is Memorial Day!  For some, this holiday marks the beginning of summer barbecues, blockbuster movie premiers, and retail sales events.  However, for many Americans, it is a day to pause, reflect and honor the many men and women who, as President Lincoln stated in his address to Gettysburg in 1863, “…gave the last full measure of devotion.”  Taking time to acknowledge the sacrifice of service is documented as far back as 1862, when women in Savannah, Georgia decorated the graves of soldiers.  After the Civil War, an annual Decoration Day was created to commemorate the loss of 625,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. With roughly 40 million Americans having served in our armed forces since the first Continental Army was established in 1775, and with roughly 1.4 million Americans making the ultimate sacrifice since that time; Decoration Day or what was later referred to as Memorial Day, is one of the oldest traditions in American history.  Except when President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act in 1940, and until the draft ended in 1973, an all-volunteer military has always served our country.  Today, less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the nation’s armed forces.  Their service and sacrifice are not always apparent and at times in our nation’s history, have even been scorned.    Even though many of us will visit a cemetery today in remembrance of loved ones no longer with us, it is important to remember what Memorial Day signifies and to pay special homage to our fallen soldiers.  Memorial Day should have meaning even for those who do not share a memory.  The lives of the men and women who were either drafted or volunteered to serve our country, make and have made significant sacrifice in fighting for the freedom and liberty that we all enjoy today.  Many of these freedoms and liberties we take for granted due to a degree of separation between us and the 1 percent.Therefore, it is only fitting to step aside from the usual commentary of the moment and to remember the freedoms that are defined in the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg Address were borne from those individuals who were willing to lay down their lives in the pursuit of freedom and for the belief that liberty was right for everyone. It is the protection of these freedoms that draw 1.4 million Americans to volunteer to serve in active military duty today and an additional 900,000 to serve in seven reserve units.  These service members protect our nation while their families tend to all the daily activities at home, care for the wounded and mourn and survive the fallen.President John F. Kennedy once stated in his Memorial Day address in 1962, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”  I am sure if that speech were given today, women would also be recognized for their sacrifice, as over 1,000 women have fallen during wartime as well. As we take time to pause and reflect today, the members of the Montana Wood Products Association wish to offer tribute to those that have died securing peace and freedom.  They sacrificed their own dreams to preserve the hope of a nation; and to remember, because those that fought the fight, the duty is now ours.  We best honor our fallen soldiers by caring for the living.  They deserve nothing less than our “last full measure of devotion”.  On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.