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Our View: President Lincoln's Gettysburg call remains unanswered

From the editorial: Address "a call to living Americans of all generations to live up to the ideals of the American experiment of liberty and democracy so that 'these dead shall not have died in vain.'"

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Gary McCoy / Cagle Cartoons

Unlike Veterans Day, which honors all who answered America's call to military service, Memorial Day today honors those who died in war. Memorial Day forces us to remember that war is about sacrifice — and the ultimate sacrifice, death.

President Abraham Lincoln's 272-word Gettysburg Address is perhaps the greatest tribute to America's war dead. It's also a call to living Americans of all generations to live up to the ideals of the American experiment of liberty and democracy so that "these dead shall not have died in vain," as Lincoln said.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest of America's Civil War. In July 1863, a Confederate army of 75,000 men faced the 97,000-man Union Army. More men fought and died in this battle than in any other before or since on American soil. The Union suffered 23,000 casualties; the Confederacy suffered 25,000. Of those casualties, 8,520 Union soldiers were killed or missing; 9,750 Confederate soldiers were killed or missing.

Lincoln visited the battlefield to dedicate a cemetery for the victims of that battle. His two-minute speech was delivered Nov. 19, 1863:

"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

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"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

"We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

At home and abroad, we still have the unfinished work Lincoln set forth more than 150 years ago: We must commit anew to an American nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" so that the dead "shall not have died in vain."

(Note: Versions of this editorial have been published on past Memorial Day weekends. The view deserves repeating.)

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