On April 19, 1775, Jonathan Harrington opened the front door of his two-story house in Lexington, Mass., and stepped out into the world for the last time.
Cradling a musket, Harrington crossed the street and walked about 100 yards onto the town commons to join dozens of his fellow townsmen. They were farmers, merchants, blacksmiths, craftsmen – all with different backgrounds but all imbued with a common devotion to liberty and freedom and a loathing of tyrannical rule.
They called themselves the Minutemen, but the ragged line of defense these founding patriots formed on Lexington Green that bright spring morning that was no match for the seasoned, fearsome force of British soldiers who riddled them with musket balls.
Harrington was mortally wounded a stone’s throw from his own front door. He dragged himself to his doorstep, as the story goes, and died at his wife’s feet. Seven other Minutemen in Lexington lost their lives from those first shots of the American Revolution.
As the 250th anniversary of the United States of America looms in the not-too-distant future of 2026, it is sobering to contemplate that since Harrington’s death, more than a million Americans have sacrificed their lives in our country’s wars.
From that first clash on Lexington Green to the bombs bursting above Fort McHenry in 1814 to the bloody battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863, from Belleau Wood in France in 1917 to Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944, from Khe Sanh in Vietnam to Fallujah in Iraq, Americans have paid the high cost of freedom with their blood and their lives.
Like Jonathan Harrington, they gave up bright futures and loving families to fight and die for the ideals that form the granite-hard foundation of a democracy built on liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. And we cannot forget that their sacrifice was also borne by the tens of millions grieving and heartbroken family members they left behind.
To honor all Americans who have fallen in the service of country, we have established Memorial Day, a holiday where we put aside our work to recognize, remember, and salute those who have given, as Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “their last full measure of devotion.”
Memorial Day is also a festival of picnics, parades, ballgames, and auto races. But this May 25 will be different.
Today, we are engaged in a time of struggle and sacrifice against a microscopic invader that has cornered much of our great nation and afflicted almost every community, forcing us to set aside many of our usual leisurely pursuits.
But this loss is also an opportunity. Postponement and cancellation allow us more time to honor Memorial Day for the reason it exists. Let us use that time to renew within ourselves the true spirit of Memorial Day and honor the heroic men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
And with the same patriotic spirit that spurred Harrington and a million other Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice, let us stand and recognize the selfless, courageous fortitude of health-care workers, first responders, and many other essential workers as they spend their own holiday risking their lives on the front lines against this virus.
By Memorial Day in 2026, on the eve of our great American celebration of the 250th anniversary of Independence Day, today’s pandemic will be a part of our history.
We will surmount this challenge as surely as we have overcome the challenges our nation has faced since 1775. Let us be able to look back at this unprecedented time with the pride that we as Americans came together with a sense of common purpose to fight this unseen enemy, infused with the determination and honor instilled in us by the sacrifice of Jonathan Harrington and the American patriots who fell with him on that spring day in Lexington in 1775.