Memorial Day is commonly associated with barbeques and the beginning of the summer season. But this 50-plus-year-old holiday is really about honoring Americans who died during active military service. So while you're out having fun on the first three-day weekend of the summer, take a moment to remember all those throughout our country's history who died in the line of duty. These 10 Memorial Day thank you quotes — from a mix of past presidents, generals, military veterans, and others — will help you reflect on weighty concepts like patriotism, service, courage, and sacrifice.
Since World War II, the nature of war and military service has changed, as has the number of Americans who serve in the military or are related to/friends with a military servicemember or veteran. Today, many of us do not have firsthand knowledge of the sacrifices our military personnel and families make for the good of the country, not to mention the ultimate sacrifice. That makes it all the more important for all Americans to think about the fallen and their gold star families on Memorial Day. Some of these quotes speak directly to the bravery and sacrifice of the troops, while others consider the American values they died defending.
1. "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 servicemembers who risk everything to defend our country.
2. "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.
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.
3. "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 Lincon made during the Civil War, the former president eloquently describes the reason we honor the fallen on Memorial Day.
4. "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.
5. "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.
6. "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.
7. "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.
8. "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.
9. "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
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.
10. "Real courage was what our troops — my heroes — face everyday. 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.
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.