Memorial means to "remember," and every year on the last Monday in May, we honor those who sacrificed their lives in the line of active military service. On Memorial Day we stop and pay our respect to the ones who were willing to stand in the gap between freedom and tyranny.
The First Amendment was not only signed into existence with ink but with the blood of over 1.1 million Americans who have died in U.S. wars, along with many more that have suffered from physical and mental difficulties. Over the years, numerous families have suffered loss from war, including my own, and we have a deep appreciation for the men and women who have served to protect our country. My uncle Kenny Maye was killed in Korea, and I have his tags, casket flag and a rare picture of him. He was only 20 years old in 1950, and his body was never found. Sadly, his existence is nearly unknown, and I often wonder about the life he could have had.
We are only a few miles from Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky, and from the highway you can see many rows of the more than 12,000 perfectly lined white marble tombstones. At times I've often driven past without hardly thinking about how each of these individuals at one time or another accepted the call of duty.
And what is that call? To defend and protect our liberties — whatever the cost! Each one of those brave soldiers was willing to give their life for their country and many did. It is said, "All gave some and some gave all." Truly, the cost of freedom is beyond the imagination.
In March 1775, Patrick Henry said, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." I am convinced this is the heart cry of all the heroes who have given their lives for our country.
I am reminded of a story about World War II hero, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. On Feb. 20, 1942, his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader gave him a direct order for him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back. As he was returning to the ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the aircraft carrier, which was defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet, So there was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert their attention away from the ship.
Laying aside all thoughts of this probably being his last moments, he aggressively dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50-caliber machine guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. O'Hare was weaving in and out of the now-broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. However, he did not stop there. He continued the assault, diving at the fighters, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Suddenly, the Japanese squadron headed off in another direction, which was nothing less than a miracle.
Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his damaged plane somehow made it back to the carrier. Upon arrival, the film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It clearly revealed his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft. For this heroic act, Butch became the Navy's first ace of World War II and the first naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sadly, a year later Mr. O'Hare was killed in another aerial battle at age 29. The O'Hare International Airport in Chicago is named as an honor to the courage of this brave man.
Dr. William F. Holland Jr. is a Christian minister, author and community-outreach chaplain. Read more at billyhollandministries.com.