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The real meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day has come to signify the start of summer for many Americans and is often celebrated with cookouts, family get-togethers, road races and concerts. But the real meaning of Memorial Day has, for too many Americans, gotten lost in holiday hoopla.

Memorial Day was created as an occasion to honor those who have paid the ultimate price to ensure our freedom. It is our opportunity to stop and give thanks for the many who have died protecting that freedom.

Many consider the 20th century to have been the bloodiest century in all history. Since the start of the 20th century, American service men and women lost their lives in seven wars and conflicts.The number of lives lost, injuries sustained and families impacted is staggering. 

Regardless of the circumstances of the battlefield, the cry of the soldier remains the same --God help me.

During the last century, the weapons of war have changed significantly. Our nation’s enemies have also changed during the last 100 years. 

Yet, one constant during this time of change has been the presence of the Bible wherever our troops have been sent. That’s because, regardless of the circumstances of the battlefield, the cry of the soldier remains the same: God help me.

The Bible and its message of foundational hope have provided comfort and encouragement to those facing the most unimaginable circumstances. And, while far too many were lost in conflict, many more soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians have faced the horrors of war as well as the challenges of coming home. When they face the hurdles of readjusting to civilian life, once again the Bible is there to bring comfort, hope, and direction.

Since 1817, American Bible Society has been providing free Bible resources to America’s armed forces. More than two million New Testaments have been distributed just since 9/11/2001.

God’s Word provides peace amid chaos and perspective when the world seems upside down. 

It also provides shared encouragement for those on the battlefield and loved ones back home.

For those who give their lives for freedom, words from the Bible are often the last they hear in this world as dedicated chaplains hold their hands and honor their sacrifice--even as they are making it.

I have had the supreme privilege of comforting those on the battlefield by reading words of comfort from God’s Word. I have seen the peace that comes with the assurance of strength and courage offered by God.

The widows, widowers and fatherless children of our American military family also cling to the Bible’s truths as they stand strong within the loss of their loved ones. As we remember the sacrifice of their heroic loved ones, let us not forget their own personal sacrifices.

This Memorial Day, enjoy burgers and hot dogs with loved ones, but take a moment to remember those who can’t do the same. 

Remember those families who will have an empty seat at their table and the men and women who used to occupy it. 

One way we can honor their sacrifice is to continue to bring the comfort of God’s Word to those in harm’s way. Then pay tribute to these men and women by picking up a Bible and reading the words that echo on the battlefields of today and yesterday. 

Perhaps consider reading Psalm 91 aloud. Allow this unchanging hope to strengthen, encourage and bring peace to you on Memorial Day and every day.

Col. James Puchy (ret.) served as the director of sustainment and information for the Army Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon before joining American Bible Society in 2011. Founded in 1816, the American Bible Society exists to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message.