“We owe them more than gratitude…”

“Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.” – Daniel Webster

Every American has a duty to serve. Selflessness—willingness to sacrifice for others—is the mark of leadership, and in the U.S., we lead.

But service isn’t just an obligation, it’s an opportunity—a chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves. My father, like so many men of his generation, served in the Navy during World War II, and I learned from his example that there is honor in putting family, community, and freedom before yourself.

That’s why in 1969, in the middle of the Vietnam War, I joined the Marine Corps and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. It was a difficult time in our nation’s history, but the men and women who served with me persevered. They gave their all for the mission, for their country, and for each other. That’s what leaders do.

Now, once again, we’re facing a difficult time in our nation. We can choose to ignore the dangers we face and placate the enemies of freedom, or we can face them head on.

Make no mistake—no one is more invested in peace than our men and women in uniform, because no one takes the risks, makes the sacrifices, and bears the cost of battle like they do. Those rows of white headstones across the bridge in Arlington serve as a reminder of that. We owe them more than gratitude—we owe them every effort at peace.

On Memorial Day in 1982, President Reagan said that, “war will not come again, other young men will not have to die, if we will speak honestly of the dangers that confront us and remain strong enough to meet those dangers. It’s not just strength or courage that we need, but understanding and a measure of wisdom as well.”

Those are words we should heed. But to be honest about the future, we have to be honest about our past.

We can start this Memorial Day by taking the time in cities and small towns all across the United States to honor the fallen. That’s our obligation: not just to remember, but to carry the torch of freedom forward so that no Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine will have made that sacrifice in vain.

Congressman and Lt. Gen. USMC (ret.) Jack Bergman represents Michigan’s First District in the House of Representatives and serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.