I recall a tradition in my mother's family of decorating the graves of those family members who had passed on. Although the holiday was established to honor those who died in war, I have no recollection that any of my recent family died in military service. The Church's FamilySearch website lets me know on a regular basis that I have distant cousins that lived in Mexico, crossed the plains with the Mormon Exodus from Nauvoo, and various other events that were well-recorded, so I am certain that someone connected to me will show up one day on some record of US war dead. Although I hope we can settle our national disputes with others off of the warfield, I honor those who give their lives so that our country and our liberty and our own lives can continue.
It brings to mind the event in the Book of Mormon when Nephite descenters led armies of Lamanites into the land, conquering city after city. It was necessary that the great Captain Moroni recruit his countrymen to defend the Nephite people and he devised a way to inspire them:
12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—
Sometimes, people must be called upon to defend our cherished values and even give up their lives to do so. Our nation was founded on freedom from oppression and liberty to act by our own wills rather than the desires of others. On occasion, like the Nephites, we have fought wars to retain our liberty and we honor those who gave up their lives in defending that liberty.
On a wider battlefield, God the Father sent us to earth and mortality so that we might all more freely exercise our freedom to choose and to earn an everlasting reward based on our desires and efforts rather than compulsion. The enemy is Satan and those who follow him, determined to take away our freedom to choose eternal life and compel us otherwise. In a figurative, but no less real sense, we fight battles with these adversaries and some fall in the great battle to win exaltation. I have some experience with these losses and you likely do as well. It is tragic to see those you love who fall by the wayside.
In a miraculous way, we are not forever bound to decorate the graves of those who have fallen. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, we know that these souls are not lost to us. Our parents and our grandparents, alongside other family members, will be restored to us and, if we seal our families together in the temple and live worthy of it, we will continue to enjoy our familial relationships. We will yet honor our loved ones who gave up their mortal lives for us, not beside their tombstones, but face-to-face and with loving embraces! What a marvelous act of love the Savior has given us of his own choice, that we may live again and do so forever.
For those who have been taken in the larger battle between good and evil, Christ provides another opportunity through his atonement: the ability to repent. Even if you or I or those we love are taken by and follow the enemy of righteousness for a time, we can appeal to Christ, change our course, and be redeemed. There is no loss the Savior cannot restore, no wrong that Jesus cannot correct, as long as we are willing to turn to him and commit ourselves to obedience to his commandments. Nothing need be lost.
So, as you take the time tomorrow to honor those who gave up their lives defending our nation, I pray you will also remember the great sacrifice that our Lord and Savior made to open the way back to our heavenly home. May we keep these thoughts as a memorial and honor them tomorrow and every day thereafter is my hope.