We must never forget those who died for our nation

“Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

President Abraham Lincoln On May 5, 1866, the citizens of Waterloo, N.Y., lowered their flags to half-mast and decorated their city in mourning black to remember the soldiers who died during the Civil War.

Decoration Day, as it was once known, has evolved and is much more than a day to mourn our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Today, Memorial Day, is a day that honors and celebrates life and service to the nation.

From Concord and Yorktown to Antietam and Gettysburg, in the Argonne Forest and Belleau Wood, on the beaches of Normandy, in the deserts of North Africa, in the waters of the Pacific, in the rice paddies of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam, in the streets of Iraq and in the mountains of Afghanistan, America’s sons and daughters have given their lives to guarantee the survival of our nation and the freedom we hold dear.

We honor the selfless actions of these brave men and women who thought themselves ordinary, but rose to meet seemingly impossible expectations to keep hope and freedom alive not just in America, but throughout the world. They are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors and acquaintances. They committed themselves to a course without an end in sight. They used their strength to defeat their enemies, but were also generous and compassionate custodians of liberty who helped rebuild countries, write constitutions and pave the way toward democracy.

They did not fight to conquer the world, but to liberate it. Each of them raised their right hand to serve something greater than themselves, an ideal, a cause or just simply for the love of country. However, they all shared one common thread: They believed that the ideals of life and liberty for all people were worth sacrificing for.

On Memorial Day, it is not only those who lay in eternal rest we think of; let us remember the Gold Star families who have lost a son or daughter. They continue to keep the legacy of their soldiers alive through their acts of support to our veterans, wounded warriors, their families and our communities. They teach us the importance of patriotism and promote service to our country. They are a shining example of resilience, dedication and commitment, and they will continue to shine as beacons, keeping the memory of their loved ones alive.

Let us remember the missing, for their journey back home continues. The term “missing in action” does not justify the true sacrifice of these brave men and women who did their duty. Their stories of heroism and sacrifice are untold; however, our memories of them must never fade. Our nation is committed to the warrior ethos — “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind” — and continues its efforts to locate, identify and repatriate those men and women who have not returned.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember the more than 4,800 soldiers and airmen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord who are deployed in harm’s way. Though they are far from home, let us remember their courage and sacrifice. Let us remember these strong families who live here in our community, because it is for them and their future that these patriots serve.

Take a moment and reflect on the day’s meaning. We should all be grateful as a nation to those who have given so much to keep alive our heritage of liberty and democracy. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines we remember and honor held our nation’s destiny in their hands. They gave everything to support and defend this country built on life, liberty and hope.

They did not fail us. We must not fail them. We owe our service. We owe our optimism. We owe our lives. Let us always remember.

Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown is the commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.