The Last Full Measure of Devotion
I have been determined not to interrupt the series we’ve been doing on The Pleasure of His Company. Today is the only exception. I feel it is appropriate to pause and honor those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.
“I recently read an account of American warriors who fought in the battle for Betio Beach during World War II. It was imperative that America take this beach. The odds against us doing so, however, were great. The results of the battle were horrific, the hearts of our men heroic. In his book Looking for America, Douglas Simpson states concerning our soldiers, ‘Never before in the history of warfare have men been asked to face such withering fire before them with only the cold sea behind to which to retreat.’1
“The enemy, knowing the importance of this location, had hand-picked 6500 of their finest soldiers and placed them in fortified positions from which to defend the beach. When the battle began, it was terrible. Our men were cut in half by the firepower. Seventy-five of the 125 landing crafts were destroyed. The waters of the lagoon turned crimson; hundreds of bodies bobbed in the surf, with hundreds more littering the beach. The Marines suffered 3000 plus casualties, but still kept attacking. Of those who reached the pier, many did so by walking on the submerged bodies of their fallen comrades!
“By the end of the second day, Colonel Shoup, commander of the Marine landing forces, radioed to headquarters, ‘Casualties many; percentage dead unknown; combat efficiency – we are winning.’ Though the battle was costly, our Marines took the beach.
I have asked my friend, spiritual son, and retired Army Major William Ostan to share a few thoughts with us regarding what this day means to him.
“There’s an old saying that bears witness to a day like today. ‘People sleep peaceably in their beds because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”3 On Memorial Day, we remember the “rough men and women’ of the U.S. Armed Forces who have sacrificed their lives so we can enjoy the blessings of liberty in peace.
“As a combat veteran of two foreign wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), I tend to experience mixed emotions on Memorial Day that can sometimes vacillate wildly. One minute, I will be in deep anguish and sorrow while remembering my fallen comrades in arms. I mourn the loss of friendship with them, and think about their families left behind, the Gold Star spouses and children whose lives have been radically changed forever.
“In the next minute, after the wave of grief has crested and fallen, I feel a sense of overwhelming pride. Pride that I was privileged to be friends with such great Americans. Pride at what we accomplished while at war. Pride that we kept the homeland safe while fighting over there. While seemingly paradoxical, it is good and right to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum when it comes to memories of the fallen.
“In this vein, for the past few years, I’ve initiated and led a family tradition of reading the Gettysburg Address on Memorial Day. Sometimes we read it aloud at home in the late afternoon before enjoying the inevitable barbeque with friends. Other times we read it silently before laying a wreath at a Soldier’s grave in the early morning hours. I want my young daughters to know and understand the high price of freedom. I think oftentimes children grasp more than we adults realize.
“Our civilization’s fragile flame of liberty is able to keep burning brightly because of such moments when generational transfer takes place.
“Why the Gettysburg Address? Because I believe the words hold the import and portray the gravitas of what the military dead have given to us, the living, more than any others. Furthermore, President Abraham Lincoln’s speech is much more than a remembrance, as critically important as remembering is, but is ultimately a thunderous call to action.
“Lincoln, the great orator and gifted wordsmith, crafted a masterful phrase to describe what the fallen have provided for those of us still enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In his legendary Gettysburg Address, the penultimate words he scribed before closing the short, yet epic speech were, ‘we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.’4
“He was speaking, of course, about the soldiers from both the North and the South who had been killed at Gettysburg. He describes their death as the “last full measure of devotion.” Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines ‘devotion’ as, ‘the state of being dedicated, consecrated, or solemnly set apart for a particular purpose.’5 The military warriors had done away with half-hearted measures and were “all in” to complete the mission, even though it meant laying down their lives. They did their duty, and Lincoln now calls us to do ours through this exhortation:
‘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 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.’6
“So you see, my fellow Americans, Memorial Day is about much more than remembering the heroes of the past. It is also about us, their descendants, honoring our ancestor’s sacrifices by continuing the unfinished work they so nobly advanced. This is why we must, with all the fire of our faith, continue to pray for America to be turned back to God. Regardless of how bad circumstances may look, we must not falter, because duty is ours – results are God’s. A new birth of freedom is possible, if we don’t give up.”
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
Heavenly Father, Your eyes have seen the sacrifice of every one of the fallen. Every man. Every woman. Every casualty of war. Every friend, every spouse, every parent, every child and family member, every comrade who has lost a loved one both past and present– You’ve seen their tears and grieved alongside them all. Not one moment in battle has escaped Your attention. You are intimately aware of each dying breath and the measure of full devotion that was poured out through their ultimate sacrifice.
Father, we take a solemn moment now to join our attention with Yours. We honor the men and women who so selflessly gave their lives, and we honor those family members and loved ones who feel the loss most deeply. For those still mourning, would You wrap your arms of comfort around them and make Yourself known to them. For those lost far in the past, help us to never forget their sacrifice. For our own hearts, Lord, we ask that You impart to us a deep gratitude for the great cloud of witnesses who’ve paid a price so we can live in a land of liberty. Fan aflame the fires within us to continue to advance the unfinished work of our ancestors.
On this Memorial Day, we ask You, Lord, to remember the fallen and all that they so nobly fought for – we join our prayers with theirs and ask that You would bring a new birth of Freedom to the United States of America.
In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
I decree that the lives of our American Servicemen and women were not lost in vain. This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
William J. Ostan is a retired Army Major and the recipient of two bronze stars. He is the founder and CEO of Arc of Justice, a nonprofit organization that advocates for wounded warriors. He is the co-author of the Wounded Warrior Bill of Rights, which is bipartisan legislation being considered in Congress. You can find out more about his efforts at arcofjusticeusa.org
1. Simpson, Douglas. Looking for America, P 310.
2. Sheets, Dutch, The Way Back, pp 42-43.
3. The quote is of unknow origin, but most scholars attribute it to either George Orwell or G.K. Chesterton.
4. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.
5. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, “Devotion” First meaning.
6. Gettysburg Address