Unlike Veterans Day, which honors all who answered America's call to military service, Memorial Day honors those who died in war. The day forces us to remember that war is about sacrifice — and the ultimate sacrifice.
Abraham Lincoln's 272-word Gettysburg Address is perhaps the greatest of all tributes to America's war dead. It's also a call to living Americans of all generations to live up to the ideals of the American experiment.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest of America's Civil War. In July 1863, the Union suffered 23,000 casualties; the Confederacy suffered 25,000.
Lincoln visited the battlefield to dedicate a cemetery for the victims of that battle. His two-minute speech was delivered Nov. 19, 1863:
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
At home and abroad, we still have the unfinished work Lincoln set forth more than 150 years ago.