Memorial Day is an opportunity every year to remember the sacrifice so many have made in the name of the freedom we all enjoy.

Tina Moon of Scarborough wears an American flag as demonstrators stand on opposite sides of Congress Street during a February protest in Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, File

The parades. The speeches. The flags on poles down Main Street and placed at every veteran’s grave. It’s all so that we don’t forget that winning and defending our rights under the U.S. Constitution has cost a great deal.

It’s also a reminder that those rights come with responsibilities.

For some Americans, that responsibility has meant answering the call when the nation’s leaders decide our interests and obligations must be defended abroad. That’s who we are honoring on Memorial Day: the more than 1.1 million Americans who have given their lives in wartime in defense of our country.

Many Mainers are included in that number, and Mainers have fought and died in every major American conflict.

In just one shining example, Mainers played a key role in holding the line at strategic points at Gettysburg in the Civil War, saving the battle, and likely the country, as it fought over whether all people truly are created equal.


At the end of the three-day battle, one in four of the nearly 4,000 Maine soldiers at Gettysburg was killed, wounded, missing or captured. “This really is a Maine battlefield more than anything else,” a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park told the Press Herald in 2013.

We are part of a great history here, and though most of us thankfully will never have to set foot on a battlefield, there are ways we can every day live up to the responsibility given to us as citizens.

It’s an idea that would sound familiar to the Founding Fathers, who focused on what each of us owed to our country and community as much as they touted our naturally endowed rights.

So what does that mean today?

It means that while you have every right to speak your mind in a public forum, whether at a legislative hearing, before a school board or on social media, you also have a responsibility to engage with the facts, and to hear out alternative views.

It means that while you have the right to speak and fight for your point of view with passion, you also have a responsibility to recognize the humanity of your opponents.


In Maine, where every community requires the help of ordinary citizens to operate correctly, you can of course choose to stay out of it. But where would we be if every local board and commission, from land use to Little League, were empty because of a lack of volunteers?

And speaking of local leadership, you have every right to speak your mind to them. You have a responsibility, even, to hold them accountable for the decisions they make.

But, again, you have a responsibility to understand the question at hand – to put yourself in the shoes of the person weighing a difficult choice – and recognize that your view is just one of many.

And you never have the right to demean, threaten or terrorize another member of the community simply for disagreeing with you, particularly someone who has chosen to put themselves out there and do the difficult work of small-town public service.

Yes, this Memorial Day, celebrate the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fought and died so that the rest of us can continue to exercise our rights.

But the only way we can truly honor them is by taking seriously our responsibilities.

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