OPINION: The Dead Cannot Speak For Themselves. So We Must Remember
It is said that the passage of time can heal all wounds — but when wounds heal, we still want to remember the important battles in which they were inflicted. So we build memorials and create ceremonies and traditions. We set aside special days to remember our hard-fought freedoms.
September 26 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the single deadliest battle in American history, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, which took place during World War I. It would run until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, that ended the war. More than 126,000 Americans lay dead or wounded — including approximately half of all American combat fatalities during the Great War — from this one battle alone.
Before that is September 11, 2001, a date no one from this generation will soon forget and one that changed my life. The tragic events of that day, and the wounds it left, are what drove me to become a U.S. Marine. Unsurprisingly, the Marine Corps taught me the value of remembering. Now, as a civil rights attorney, I have the privilege of helping others remember the fallen as well.
One of the Marine Corps’ grand traditions is the Mess Night. It is an event steeped in history, with plenty of pomp and circumstance, and even a bit of revelry. The Mess Night protocol is actually spelled out in detail in the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual.
According to the Manual, and tradition, the Marines present are to “pay homage to the valor shown and sacrifices made by Marines who have distinguished themselves throughout history.” A ship’s bell is then rung one time each for a number of storied Marine Corps campaigns. As each campaign name is read aloud — typically beginning with the Battle of Bladensburg, a critical battle during the War of 1812 — those present raise a toast of honor.
The point of all this ceremony is to remember those battles, to never forget their importance in the cause of freedom, and to honor the memory of the Marines who fought and sacrificed in them. After all, we too often forget what we do not see.
Oddly enough, the town of Bladensburg, Maryland — the same Bladensburg mentioned during a Mess Night toast — is the site of one such veterans memorial: the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. Nearby stands the veterans memorial to honor the men who fought in the War of 1812.
Gold Star Mothers and The American Legion erected the World War I memorial to honor the 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who fought and died in World War I. Several of the 49 men commemorated by the memorial perished during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, which also happens to be one of the campaigns honored during the Mess Night toast of honor.
Sadly, the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is under attack. An activist organization filed a lawsuit to have the memorial torn down because it happens to be in the shape of a cross — just like the gravestones spread over 130+ acres of the Meuse-Argonne America cemetery.
My law firm, First Liberty Institute, believes it is a sacred duty and honor to “pay homage to the valor shown and sacrifices made” in service to our nation. That is why we are fighting on behalf of our clients, The American Legion, to honor and remember the 49 men whose names are etched in the Bladensburg memorial and their endurance, valor, courage, and devotion.
The Supreme Court of the United States may be the last hope for preserving the Bladensburg World War I Memorial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the memorial violates the Constitution.
For the sake of the Bladensburg memorial, and the hundreds like it across the nation, we hope the Court protects the memorial, ensuring we will be able to continue to remember the valor and sacrifice at Meuse-Argonne for another hundred years, and beyond.
As Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the Fourth Circuit said dissenting from the court’s decision to deny rehearing en banc, “the dead cannot speak for themselves.”
Mike Berry, Esq., is Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel at First Liberty Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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