More than a million people have lost their lives fighting for the United States over the centuries, and each year, Americans endeavor to remember those sacrifices. But how can citizens honor such service? In these Memorial Day quotes from Barack Obama, the former President endeavored to show Americans the meaning of remembrance in his Memorial Day speeches, all but one of which was delivered at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Less than one percent of our nation wears the uniform, and so few Americans see this patriotism with their own eyes or knows someone who exemplifies it," Obama said on his final Memorial Day speech, in 2016. "But every day, there are American families who pray for the sound of a familiar voice when the phone rings. For the sound of a loved one’s letter or email arriving. More than one million times in our history, it didn’t come. And instead, a car pulled up to the house. And there was a knock on the front door. And the sounds of Taps floated through a cemetery’s trees."
Always, Obama implored Americans to pause on the holiday and consider the stories of those who fought and died. And then, just as importantly, to act in support of veterans and the families of the fallen, through community work and the promotion of public policy.
"Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes gave everything to get their battle buddies home, we have to make sure our veterans get everything that they have earned, from good health care to a good job," Obama said in his 2016 speech. "And we have to do better; our work is never done. We have to be there not only when we need them, but when they need us."
If you're wondering how best to honor the fallen this Memorial Day, consider reading former President Barack Obama's speeches in full. Each of them contains individual stories of bravery and sacrifice from over the years, as well as powerful reminders of this holiday's history. You can find President Obama's speeches on the White House Archives site.
1. "Children are running their fingers over colorful ribbons that they know signify something of great consequence, even if they don't know exactly why."
In 2009, President Obama nodded to the long history of honoring fallen soldiers, and the feeling that hangs in the air at the national cemeteries on Memorial Day. At Arlington Cemetery, you can find soldiers who served in every American war.
2. "At its core, the nobility and the majesty of Memorial Day can be found in the story of ordinary Americans who become extraordinary for the most simple of reasons: They loved their country so deeply, so profoundly, that they were willing to give their lives to keep it safe and free."
In his 2010 Memorial Day speech, Obama expressed wonder at the bravery of those who stepped up to danger, answering a profound sense of patriotic duty. You can read the transcript of Obama's speech at Politico.
3. "Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must."
In his 2011 speech, Obama lay this charge on survivors and families of the dead: the way to honor the fallen is by keeping their memories alive, and remaining mindful of the example they set.
4. "Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring."
In 2012, Obama reminded the country that men and women make the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect the world they hold dear.
5. "A mother’s plea — please don’t forget."
In 2013, Obama shared a letter from the mother of a fallen soldier, urging him to help the country remember those who defend them. The transcript of Obama's speech appeared in Politico.
6. "The fallen patriots we memorialize today gave their last full measure of devotion. Not so we might mourn them, though we do. Not so that our nation might honor their sacrifice, although it does. They gave their lives so that we might live ours — so that a daughter might grow up to pursue her dreams; so that a wife might be able to live a long life, free and secure; so that a mother might raise her family in a land of peace and freedom."
7. "These two men, these two heroes, if you saw them passing on the street, you wouldn’t have known they were brothers. But under this flag, in common cause, they were bonded together to secure our liberty, to keep us safe."
In 2015, Obama told the story of two young men — one from Arizona, the other a Jamaican immigrant to Queens — who became brothers and heroes in service, a bridge across all differences.
8. "A nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces, but by those it remembers."
In 2016, Obama affirmed that looking back in remembrance is more than an act of nostalgia. When Americans memorialize the fallen, they continue their legacy into the future.