A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
John Stuart Mill
On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day. For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union. Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all. Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now: lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation. When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:
The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.
The men they had fought and defeated would never be forgotten by most of the Southern people they had fought for. In years to come the Federal government would propose that it take over the maintenance of the graves of the Confederate dead. The proposal would be politely declined on the grounds that as long as there were women in the South those graves would never go untended.
In time, our bloody Civil War became a source of national reconciliation, almost all Americans taking pride in the vast courage of the men on both sides who fought for what they believed was right. Union and Confederate troops began holding joint reunions in the 1880s, and North and South shed their blood together in the Spanish American War:
Pride in our veterans has carried over to our other conflicts, with a shameful lapse in this attitude during the Vietnam War (strong language advisory for the video) :
Gratitude is a wonderful virtue, just as ingratitude is a despicable vice. In this Vale of Tears, this place so often of tumult and strife, good and evil are ever in contest. And so we remember our veterans. Everything we enjoy, our veterans gave to us, often at a high price for themselves. Our safety, our prosperity, and most importantly, our freedom, were all made possible by their blood and sacrifice. They made a world where this nation stands tallest among all others, and a world where all men, even if they still groan under a tyrant’s rule, know of the American promise of freedom. When our veterans signed up, they knew what high price their duty might demand to protect our homes and our loved ones. They answered the call, paid the cost and we are ever in their debt.