Remember and uphold tradition

Among many reasons I feel privileged to serve as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the opportunity to frequently visit with our service members and their families.

At any time of day or night in any corner of the world, I always see the hope of our nation in their eyes. I can also see their sacrifice, and that of their families. Without fail, being with our men and women in uniform causes me to rededicate myself to our profession. And it renews my commitment to ensuring that they remain the best-led, trained, and equipped force the world has ever known.

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Similarly, Memorial Day serves as a moment for us as citizens to reflect, renew and rededicate ourselves to the ideals of our country — and to each other.

This year, our nation is reflecting on our Civil War, a war that tore this nation’s families asunder while threatening the very future of the nation. Despite grievous suffering, we reaffirmed our purpose and ultimately grew stronger.

The Civil War was neither our nation’s first or last test. The timeless constant in every test of our national strength has been the willingness of men and women to bind its wounds and take up the guidon of selfless devotion.

A veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg, an English teacher named Joshua Chamberlain wrote, “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays ... reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream...”

Since then, in fields throughout the world, America’s sons and daughters lie peacefully, having given what Abraham Lincoln called, their “last full measure of devotion” not only for their country, but for the untold generations who have known only peace in their lifetimes. We remember the sacrifices of these patriots and are inspired by their spirit.

Departing my quarters each morning, I look upon Arlington National Cemetery, and I know that I am linked to this legacy. I am proud of my Irish heritage and my American family, but I have a second family: the military family that embraced me and Deanie and that Deanie and I have embraced.

Our military family is being tested by the demands of war and with the uncertain future that we face. But, our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen have broad shoulders. They have borne the nation’s burdens for nearly 237 years of independence.

And we must continue to bear them. All of us who dedicate ourselves to our nation are the legacy of that unbroken line of service and of sacrifice.

We should do more than remember our patriots on Memorial Day. We must uphold their tradition by continuing to strive for a more perfect union. In their honor — and for our honor — let us all increase our devotion to one another and to our nation.