Memorial Day and the Rule of Law


Written by: John Kenyon, Ch. Lt Col, USAF (ret.)

Memorial Day is once again before us. When this time of remembrance comes my thoughts return to Arlington National Cemetery where I served as a military chaplain. My duty was to conduct funerals for military families that chose Arlington as the final resting place for their loved ones. In my two-year tour of duty, I performed over 600 services; some of those were individuals who gave that “last full measure of devotion.” My time there was the most rewarding of my 31 years of military service. I can say I am not the same as there are many memories that I hold for those two years that have profoundly affected me. 

As I reflect on the day, in the wake of the pandemic, I am not sure if there will be the annual observance that is conducted at the Memorial Amphitheater as the cemetery is closed to the public. There is one thing that I do know and that is the guard will continue to walk the 21 steps as they “stand watch 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather. They never forget. They never wavier in the fulfillment of their duty.

I knew all who serve in the armed services must take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Several years ago, I learned that Article VI of the Constitution actually requires “the Senators and Representatives … and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” Interesting that not only the federal but state government officials all take the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  This is the “rule of law” established in this nation. It is not the rule of the most influential, or the richest, or those holding the elected office. The application of the law should meet the standard by which this nation was founded.

In the wake of the pandemic, there is a cacophony of voices as to how this crisis needs to be handled. This is not written to state which side is correct. It is written that all voices need to be heard and the final arbitrator must be the Constitution that all government officials have sworn an oath to “support and defend” not to “subjugate and undermine.” 

How does Memorial Day and the application of the Constitution meet? Lincoln’s words, at the dedication of the National Cemetery of Gettysburg provides the connection. He would say it was the lives of those “brave men, living and dead, who struggled here” that “consecrated” that place. He then spoke to those gathered there and, in many ways, to us today:

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.

How do we, as citizens of America, honor those who sleep in the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” We honor not only by remembering but also by action. The work of freedom will never be finished as it only takes one generation to lose it. Let us hold our government officials to their oath. Let us emulate the guards of the Tomb, who keep their post. Let us rededicate ourselfs “to the great task remaining before us” and live “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

In closing, hear the words of the third verse of America the Beautiful:

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

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