Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 29. This is a day set aside to honor those Americans who have fallen in service to their country. To date, 1,196,541 have fallen during war time, and some tens of thousands during peacetime.
What do you owe the fallen?
First of all, you must recognize the debt you owe is a debt that can only be settled in kind. Those men and women gave every single thing they had, and every single thing they would ever have, to their nation. Only those who also fall in service can fully retire their debt.
You owe them that
Secondly, you need to understand what they were serving when they fell. No American service member has ever fought for a king, or for the government, or for congress. No American serviceman has ever fought for their state or their town or their friends and neighbors or even for their family. A sincere desire to serve and protect these things – with the exception of a king, obviously – was certainly a major factor in every service member’s decision to serve.
But what all American service members have always formally and officially fought for are the principles and ideas that define our nation. American service members have always sworn an oath of service, which proves this point. Below are the enlisted and officer oaths sworn during the revolutionary War and up until the adoption and ratification of the Constitution.
1. Enlisted: The first oath, voted on 14 June 1775 as part of the act creating the Continental Army, read: “I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.”
2. The original wording was effectively replaced by Section 3, Article 1, of the Articles of War approved by Congress on 20 Sept., 1776, which specified the oath of enlistment read: “I _____ swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be true to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.”
3. Officers: The Continental Congress passed two versions of this oath of office, applied to military and civilian national officers. The first, on 21 Oct., 1776, read: “I _____, do acknowledge the Thirteen United States of America, (...) to be free, independent, and sovereign states, and declare, that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the third, king of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain, and defend the said United States against the said king, George the third, and his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents; and will serve the said United States in the office of _____, which I now hold, and in any other office which I may hereafter hold by their appointment, or under their authority, with fidelity and honour, and according to the best of my skill and understanding. So help me God.”
4. The revised version, voted 3 Feb., 1778, read “I, _____ do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience, to George the third, king of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him: and I do swear (or affirm) that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States, against the said king George the third and his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of _____ which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding. So help me God.”
Since 1789 each service member has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, which enumerates and codifies the principles and ideas upon which our nation is formed.
The first oath under the Constitution was approved by Act of Congress 29 Sept., 1789 (Sec. 3, Ch. 25, 1st Congress). It applied to all commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States. It came in two parts, the first of which read: “I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.” The second part read: “I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.” The next section of that chapter specified that “the said troops shall be governed by the rules and articles of war, which have been established by the United States in Congress assembled, or by such rules and articles of war as may hereafter by law be established.”
Although the wording has changed over the years, the core of the oath remains the same; support and defense of the Constitution of the United States, true faith and allegiance to the nation, and to obey the lawful orders of the President and military superiors. Below are today’s oath of enlistment and oath of office.
1. “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help
2. “I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help
This is the reality. America’s fighting men and women have not and do not fight for you as an individual. They have not and do not fight for your freedom or to keep you safe. Those things are for each individual Sovereign American Citizen to preserve. America’s fighting men and women fight to support and defend the Constitution, which codifies the heart of our nation – her principles and her ideals.
To America’s fallen, you owe the responsibility to understand what they actually fell in service of. You owe them that.
You must also understand that no American service member has ever fallen in vain, nor were any their deaths meaningless. They fell in defense of the Constitution, the codified embodiment of this nation’s principles and ideals, which a fallen Commander In Chief (can you figure out which one?) called the last, best hope of Earth.
You owe them that.
You owe them the effort of understanding and thinking deeply about what America is in fact and in reality. You owe them to be the best and most principled American you can be. You owe them to do what another fallen Commander In Chief once famously suggested, to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
You owe them that.
You also owe the fallen this: You must do your best to practice the First Principle of our Nation in all of your affairs. You must embrace and practice the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable natural rights. You must understand that the fallen were men and women just like you, not better human beings, not worse human beings, but equal to you as you are equal to them. Only in this way can you gain a bit of understanding of the magnitude of their sacrifice.
These things you owe the fallen.