Let us remember those who gave their lives Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Written by Fr. Donald Lange   
Thursday, May. 23, 2019 -- 12:00 AM

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day. In 1868, Major General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the first official Memorial Day.

On May 30, 1868, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

Historian David Hacker writes that an estimated 620,00 died in the Civil War. He added that in 1860 there were about 31 million people in our country, about one-tenth the size it is today.

He stated that today, that number of deaths would total 6.2 million. This figure is staggering.

In 1966, a presidential proclamation credited Waterloo, N.Y., as the birth place of Decoration Day on May 5, 1866.

There were, however, earlier celebrations honoring Civil War casualties.

The first recorded act of honoring Union Civil War dead occurred in Charleston, S.C., on May 1, 1865.

According to historian David W. Blight, the Charleston Daily Courier reported that former slaves, African Americans, honored 257 dead Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.

They reburied the bodies and gave each a proper burial as gratitude for giving their lives for freedom. A parade, led by several thousand African American children, followed.

Christians in peace and war

Because they followed Christ, the Prince of Peace, early Christians did not bear arms.

Eventually, some Christians concluded that sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to keep evil people from forcing their will on weak, innocent people.

In the fourth century, St. Augustine formulated the Just War Theory where war is reluctantly permitted when certain conditions are met.

In no. 79 of the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, it says “Those who devote themselves to the military service of their country should look upon themselves as agents of security and freedom of peoples. When they fulfill this role properly, they make genuine contributions to peace.”

Many men and women enter military service and sacrifice time, plans, comfort, and sometimes their lives so that we might live in freedom and peace.

Christians and people of good will are called to work for peace.

Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s uncle said, “No matter how just the cause, war is always horrific. Even when you are on the side of good, battling evil, killing another human being, and holding a fallen comrade is never easy!’’

He was one of the few who survived the Bataan Death March and was a prisoner of war in Japan for three and a half years.

Reflecting on freedom

Irvin Weber, an Iowa prisoner during the Korean War, said, “You don’t know how important freedom is until you lose it, until you cannot hop in the car with money in your pocket, and go where you want and do what you want and buy what you want and nobody’s stopping you!”

Cheryl Weber, his daughter, added that her dad took a full Rosary over and he came back with about six beads down to the metal because of his constant prayers.

On Memorial Day, we can express our appreciation of those who served our country and work for peace in many ways. We can attend services and memorials to honor those who have died in military service, visit the graves of fallen soldiers, and adorn them with flowers. We can attend a parade, fly the flag at half-staff, if possible.

We can pledge to aid the widows, widowers, and orphans of those who gave lives for our country.

War should motivate us to work for peace according to God’s plan, not man’s plan.

May the Holy Spirit, the dove of peace, inspire and motivate us to help to bring peace to our homes, neighborhoods, work, and world.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.