36 Memorial Day Quotes for Every American
Honor the sacrifice of our heroic fallen with these Memorial Day quotes. They deliver words of wisdom on what it means to be patriotic.
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Honoring Memorial Day
While Memorial Day tends to herald the beginning of the summer season, with barbecues, beaches, and the first sunburn of the season (at least in non-COVID times), the “holiday” is truly a day for mourning and honoring the military members who have fought and died for our freedom. In fact, all Americans should know the history of Memorial Day, including how Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day. The following list of touching Memorial Day quotes serves as a reminder and tribute for those who have sacrificed themselves for the greater population. Here are more patriotic quotes to honor brave Americans all year round.
“Here men endured that a nation might live.”—Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover, the 31st U.S. president, spoke these words at Valley Forge on Memorial Day in 1931. He addressed a crowd of 20,000 with a speech filled with Memorial Day quotes that capture the essence of the day. He addressed George Washington’s battle on that same site: “Here Washington and his little band of hungry and almost naked patriots kept alive the spark of liberty in the lowest hours of the Revolution.” He went on to say, “It is this high spirit that we commemorate when we pay our yearly tribute of reverence to those who in all wars have stood steadfast and those who have died in the service of our country.” Check out these 50 facts about America that most Americans don’t know.
“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.”—Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt took office in 1901, becoming the 26th U.S. president. He spoke these words in 1898 at Carnegie Hall in New York during a campaign event. He was known for rousing oration and his words are often used for Memorial Day quotes because he so often addressed courage and sacrifice.
Jennifer M. Granholm
“Ceremonies are important. But our gratitude has to be more than visits to the troops and once-a-year Memorial Day ceremonies. We honor the dead best by treating the living well.”—Jennifer M. Granholm
Jennifer Granholm was governor of Michigan from 2003–2011, and she wrote these words to honor veterans on Memorial Day in 2012, urging both service and commemoration as part of daily life. Check out these 14 Memorial Day facts that you probably didn’t learn in school.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom always inspires. Here, he eloquently speaks about the importance of speaking out and taking a stand. He encouraged people to break free from complacency and use their voices for good. Don’t miss more iconic quotes from Dr. King.
“Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring veterans, it’s honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the fortune of coming home. For us, that’s a reminder of when we come home we still have a responsibility to serve. It’s a continuation of service that honors our country and those who fell defending it.”—Pete Hegseth
Memorial Day quotes move us because—like this one—they capture the essence of the day set aside for tribute. Hegseth served in the U.S. Army National Guard before becoming a Fox News Channel contributor. If you’re looking to travel during Memorial Day, here’s a list of where to go for Memorial Day weekend.
John F. Kennedy
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” —John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy spoke these famous words during his inaugural speech on January 20, 1961. Although he won the presidency by a slim margin, he aimed to unite the populace and inspire service—and accomplished much before his assassination.
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”—Aristotle
The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that courage was one of the greatest virtues, but he didn’t want people to be foolhardy or reckless. In his definition, courage meant facing challenges with strength and confidence even when one knows the outcome will be bad or that failure was possible.
“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”—Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a prolific writer and civil rights activist who received the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom in addition to numerous other awards. Her life and work inspired Americans to take on injustice and to recognize the beauty and value of diverse voices. Here are more powerful Maya Angelou quotes.
“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”—Mark Twain
Literary humorist Mark Twain spoke these words in 1901 at an event for the “Male Teachers Association” in New York about the civics curriculum. Twain claimed in the speech that he wouldn’t go “further into politics,” but he also offered that he would teach children that “all men are created free and equal”—a promise he would ensure his children would keep.
“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
This quote comes from Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, first published in 1960 and written when the former first lady and human rights activist was 76. In it, she encourages people, through her own example, to take on a life of public service. If you’re still interested in first ladies, find out if any have come from your state.
“I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”—James Baldwin
The famous author wrote these enduring words on the nature of American democracy in his essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, first published in 1955. Baldwin’s work continues to inspire and inform, poising him as one of the great American minds on race and equality. He was ahead of his time.
“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”—Elmer Davis
Elmer Davis was an American journalist, popular during the World War II-era when he was head of the Office of War Information. He’s known for his incisive criticism of military censorship as well as of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into alleged communists in the early 1950s.
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free . . . so other people would be also free.”—Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks’ courageous stance in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 changed the course of America. Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in defiance of the laws of the time. This single act of bravery ignited the larger civil rights movement for racial justice. These quotes speak volumes in the fight against racism.
“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay.”—Barack Obama
Barack Obama, the 44th U.S. president, spoke these words on Memorial Day in 2011. His speech honors the sacrifice of Gold Star families and goes on to remind all Americans that they must honor that sacrifice, as well. “We must honor it in our own lives by holding their memories close to our hearts, and heeding the example they set,” he said. “And we must honor it as a nation by keeping our sacred trust with all who wear America’s uniform, and the families who love them; by never giving up the search for those who’ve gone missing under our country’s flag or are held as prisoners of war; by serving our patriots as well as they serve us—from the moment they enter the military to the moment they leave it, to the moment they are laid to rest.”
“So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.”—Helen Keller
On this day of remembering the fallen, Helen Keller’s words provide comfort. Born in 1880, she became blind and deaf after contracting scarlet fever as a young child. Despite these disabilities, she became a remarkable scholar, writer, and philosopher on social reform. In this quote, her wise words serve as a reminder about the power of memory and optimism. Learn more about this amazing woman—and others.
“A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”—Frederick Douglass
This quote comes from a speech on the “meaning” of the Civil War that orator, writer, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed to the Women’s Loyal League in 1864. Douglass urged people to see not just the tragedy of the war, but that it marked a strike against slavery. As painful as the Civil War was, he stated, it led to “the moral growth of a great nation.”
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”—G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton was an English writer who lived between 1874 and 1936. This quote comes from his popular book Orthodoxy, about Christianity. In his section on courage, he goes on to describe the hero as someone “who dies for the sake of living.” He describes the soldier as “only get[ing] away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it.” Here are 50 of our favorite book quotes from books.
“I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”—Harriet Tubman
The extraordinary abolitionist Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in the 1820s. She escaped, and then made a reported 19 missions along the Underground Railroad to free others from slavery, which remained legal in the south until 1865. She was also an activist and speaker who spoke about everyone’s inalienable right to liberty.
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”—Arthur Ashe
Arthur Ashe was the first Black tennis player to reach the number one ranking in the world, and he won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He was an activist and speaker in addition to being a tennis champion. He contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion but used the experience to educate the public on the nature of the disease and to advocate for those suffering. His activism for vulnerable groups, including Haitian refugees and Africans living under apartheid, made him a true American hero.
Charles de Gaulle
“Patriotism is when the love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”—Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle was president of France from 1959-1969, but he is perhaps best known for leading the French resistance against Nazi Germany during World War II. In this Memorial Day quote, he makes the crucial distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Check out these 15 things you never knew about Memorial Day.
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilization, no future.”—Elie Wiesel
In his 1986 speech to accept the Nobel prize, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel argued for “our supreme duty towards memory.” Though there’s a human tendency to forget horrors and move on, Wiesel speaks of the obligation to remember and to speak out about those memories. This quote comes from a 2008 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered.
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”—Bob Dylan
A singer, a songwriter, and a superstar, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 for lyrics that poetically captured “a spirit of rebellion, dissent, and independence.” Dylan’s music, including classics like “The Times They Are a-Changin,” expressed both the volatility and hope of America during the Vietnam war and civil rights era. Check out these Memorial Day decorations you can set up in your home.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the four-term 32nd president who served from 1933–1945, shepherding America through the Great Depression and World War ll. Want to know about this inspiring president? Read more about the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum and seven other presidential libraries that are great for history buffs. History buffs will also enjoy these Memorial Day movies.
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”—Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale was a young American who spied on the British on orders from George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Young and inexperienced, he was quickly captured. While he reportedly spoke eloquently before his execution, his famous line about having “but one life to lose,” is tough to verify. After his death, he became a symbol of patriotism and sacrifice. If you’re looking for more inspirational quotes, try these 50.
“The legacy of heroes—the memory of a great name, and the inheritance of a great example.”—Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli was the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the mid-1800s. He is remembered for being an influential voice in international affairs and his novels that he wrote throughout his career in government.
Sgt. Major Bill Paxton
“May we never forget our fallen comrades. Freedom isn’t free.”—Sgt. Major Bill Paxton
Sgt. Major Bill Paxton, the former drill instructor for the marines and an original founder of the U.S. Marine Corps Drill Instructor Association, became interested in the marines when his father was killed while fighting the Japanese during the Pacific campaign of World War II. He retired after 30 years of active duty and remains one of the most well-known marines in San Diego. Don’t miss these tricky war history questions most people never get right.
“As we set today aside to honor and thank our veterans, let us be mindful that we should do this every day of the year and not just one.”—Beth Pennington
Beth Pennington is an author and founder of Military Missions, a company that supports and honors deployed military personnel by sending care packages year-round as an expression of appreciation and gratitude. She began the organization after her son became a marine in 2004. These hope quotes will instantly lift you up.
“We take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”—Cynthia Ozick
Cynthia Ozick is an American novelist, writer and intellectual, who focuses on the challenges that come with remaining Jewish in a contemporary American world. She has received numerous awards for her short stories and essays throughout her career.
“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history.”—Mary Roach
Mary Roach is the best-selling author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, which explores the science behind the challenges soldiers face when serving such as panic, exhaustion, extreme heat, and loud noises. See these words and phrases most people don’t know originated in the military.
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”—Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell was an American teacher and author best known for his work in comparative mythology. He joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College in 1934 where he taught for many years before he died in 1987.
“This is the day we pay homage to all those who didn’t come home. This is not Veterans Day, it’s not a celebration, it is a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of freedom.”—Tamra Bolton
Tamra Bolton is a dedicated journalist and photographer. She wrote these words in an article about Memorial Day and the meaning of the holiday on Parade. Make sure you know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“America without her soldiers would be like God without His angels.”—Claudia Pemberton
Claudia Pemberton works for the Cabell County Public School System and is an active member of American Authors of America, Military Writers Society of America, and Romance Writers of America. After extensively researching one of the protagonists in her novel Love Leaves No One Behind, she began to understand the true meaning of patriotism and the selfless sacrifice that comes with being a soldier. Here are some Memorial Day activities you can do to celebrate without losing the message of the day.
Adlai Stevenson II
“Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”—Adlai Stevenson II
Adlai Stevenson II was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat who served numerous positions for the federal government during the 1930s and 1940s. He became the 31st governor of Illinois from 1949 to 1953 and later received the Democratic nomination for president in both the 1952 and 1956 elections. If you want to learn more about Memorial Day, read up on how Memorial Day poppies came to be.
“If words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.” —Ronald Reagan
The 40th president said this during a 1982 Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery. Find out these facts you never knew about Arlington Cemetery.
This bishop and theologian was giving us Memorial Day quotes long before Memorial Day existed. St. Ambrose lived from AD 340–397. His long-ago words highlight the importance of gratitude! Speaking of, these gratitude quotes will remind you to be grateful every single day.
“The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.” —Jeff Miller
Miller represented the state of Florida’s 1st district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2017. Next, check out the simple, yet powerful ways you can support veterans this year.