Day is done, gone the sun/From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky ..."
You know the melody. It is "Taps," the bugle or trumpet call arranged by a Civil War general as a "lights out" signal to the troops. Later, its mournful tones were adopted for use at military funerals.
"All is well, safely rest
"God is nigh."
Sounding through our valleys and echoing from our hills, "Taps" will be heard often today. It is Memorial Day, and we Americans pause to honor those who have given their lives for us while serving in the armed forces.
There have been so many of them; more than 1.2 million since our Declaration of Independence put us on a path to liberty and prosperity. These qualities are the envy of billions throughout the world.
For more than two centuries, men and, in more recent years, women have marched off to fight our wars with the knowledge that they might not make it back. Carrying muzzle-loading muskets and automatic rifles with night-vision scopes, manning wooden sailing ships and nuclear submarines, walking endless miles on dusty roads and flying at supersonic speeds, they have answered their country's call.
Our honored heroes perished in Pennsylvania and the Philippines, Midway and Maryland, South Carolina and South Korea, the Shenandoah Valley and the Ia Drang Valley - and hundreds of other places. The names of some are remembered only by those who fought there.
"Fading light dims the sight
"And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright"
Then, just as Americans were daring to hope a world without war was possible, came the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just since last Memorial Day, the already long roster of the honored dead has grown by 386 Americans who were killed in Afghanistan. Another 32 died in Iraq - in a war declared by our president to have ended last fall.
"From afar, drawing near
"Falls the night."
Today we honor them and fervently thank God for their deeds of sacrifice, patriotism and valor.
Our sorrow is with the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice - and we are mindful, too, of the millions who came home maimed in body and mind. Many of them will be among us as we observe Memorial Day.
"Thanks and praise for our days
"Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky"
We owe them a debt we can never repay. All we can do is be heartfelt and staunch in expressing our gratitude.
We honor them as our faithful guardians, as men and women who did extraordinary things for us - as heroes.
"As we go, this we know
"God is nigh."