Memorial Day

Saying thank you this Memorial Day is a sweet gesture; large military cemetery
Congressional Quarterly/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
How To Say “Thank You” This Memorial Day

Because those who sacrificed everything deserve our gratitude.

by Elizabeth Helen Spencer and Jennifer Parris
Originally Published: 

Memorial Day is commonly associated with hamburgers on the grill and water balloon fights on the lawn. But this 155-year-old holiday is really about honoring those we have lost in active military service. So while you're out having fun on the unofficial kickoff to summer, be sure to take a moment to remember all those throughout our country's history who have died in the line of duty. These Memorial Day thank you quotes — from a mix of past presidents, generals, military veterans, and others — can help one reflect on the patriotism and courage of our troops.

Since World War II, the nature of war and military service has changed, as has the number of Americans who are related to or friends with a military service member or veteran. Today, many of us do not have firsthand knowledge of the intense sacrifices our military personnel and their families have made. This makes it all the more important that we take time to honor the fallen, and to pay our respects to their gold star families.

Remember those who have empty chairs at the table, and those who fought so hard for the freedoms we too often take for granted. Some of these Memorial Day “thank you” quotes speak directly to the bravery of the troops, while others reflect on the American values they died defending.


"No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation." — General Douglas MacArthur

And for some, that preservation meant performing the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why Douglas MacArthur, who was an American general during World War II as well as leading armed forces during the Korean War, believed that no one should take those freedoms for granted.


"Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it." — Unknown

It’s not known who made this heartbreaking (yet true) statement. But once you really let that sentiment sink in, chances are you’ll never look at a flag waving in the wind the same way again.


"America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand." — Former President Harry S. Truman

Truman was the 33rd American president, in office at the end of World War II. He identifies courage and determination as core American values, which are certainly shared by the military service members who risk everything to defend our country.


"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." — General George S. Patton, Jr.

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Patton, a senior Army officer and commander during the second world war, urges Americans to take a celebratory and thankful view of those who died fighting for their country rather than mourn them.


"For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country's cause. The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier." — Former President Abraham Lincoln

From remarks Lincoln made during the Civil War, the former president eloquently describes the reason we honor the fallen on Memorial Day.


"We ask a lot of those who wear our uniform. We ask them to leave their loved ones, to travel great distances, to risk injury, even to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. They are dedicated. They are honorable. They represent the best of our country, and we are grateful." — Former President George W. Bush

In this 2001 speech at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the former president lists the sacrifices of those in uniform. He also explains why we look up to them as "the best" of America.


"America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost. We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere." — Former President Barack Obama

In his 2014 commencement speech at West Point, Obama identifies "lasting peace" as one of the American values our troops fight for. Obama also said he was "haunted" by the deaths and injuries of military personnel during his presidency, a reminder that the decision to go to war is not (or should not be) made lightly.


"History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid." — Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Former President Eisenhower, a five-star general in WWII, celebrates the essential bravery of those in uniform.


"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." — Winston Churchill

Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during WWII, reminds us of all that we owe those who gave their lives to defend ours.


"Women have, officially or not, been part of the American armed forces for more than 150 years — with a history that stretches back to both the American Revolution and figures like Deborah Sampson, who bound her chest and fought the British under the name Robert Shurtleff." — Alessandra Codinha

This quote comes from a Vogue article featuring Jackie Nickerson's photos of female soldiers stationed in Hawaii.


"When I was bleeding to death... I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, or brown. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.” — Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth

Catherine Lane/Moment/Getty Images

In the spirit of supporting transgender troops who have given or are prepared to give their lives for their countries, Senator Duckworth reflects on her own experience in combat and the bonds of unity between troops, no matter their differences.


"Real courage was what our troops — my heroes — face every day. Real courage is being willing to give up your right to everything you want for your future, your memories from your past, and even, if need be, your life to make a better place for others." — Gold Star Mom Debbie Lee

In a personal essay about the many kinds of courage required by military personnel and their families, Lee describes the night she found out her son had been the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq. It's heartbreaking and, honestly, "thank you" will never be enough.


“A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Simple, eloquent, and to the point. Exactly what you’d expect from the brilliant mind of this late Supreme Court Justice.


“Freedom is never granted. It is earned by each generation… in the face of tyranny, cruelty, oppression, extremism, sometimes there is only one choice. When the world looks to America, America looks to you, and you never let her down.” — Hillary Rodham Clinton

A powerful reminder that what makes any country great is the united desire for truth, and the willingness to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost.


"Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future." — Elie Wiesel

A beautiful bit of wisdom from the renowned scholar and Holocaust survivor, reflecting on the vital importance of remembrance.


“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” — Thomas Campbell

They are gone, but never forgotten — as long as we always remember them.


“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” — Elmer Davis

And we are so thankful for them all.

This Memorial Day, enjoy your three-day weekend and enjoy being with your family and friends by the grill, but don't forget to say "thank you" to those who deserve it. Whether you use one of these quotes or put more effort into your gratitude, know that veterans and other members of the armed forces appreciate what their brothers and sisters who sacrificed everything may not get to hear. Hug your loved ones, remember those who lost everything, and focus on more than just that sale on lawn mowers.

This article was originally published on