COMMENTARY: Presidential quotes on war, Memorial Day and sacrifice

“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind banished from the earth, and the sons and daughters of this world employed in more pleasing and innocent amusements, than in preparing implements, and exercising them, for the destruction of mankind.”—George Washington

“War is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.”—Abraham Lincoln

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

“If silence is golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the much of which can never be sung…For love of country they accepted death.”—James Garfield

“I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it.”—Benjamin Harrison

“War is not merely justifiable, but imperative upon honorable men, upon an honorable nation, where peace can only be obtained by the sacrifice of conscientious conviction or of national welfare…With great victory comes great sacrifice.”—Theodore Roosevelt

“They do not need our praise. They do not need that our admiration sustain them. There is no immortality that is safer than theirs. We come here not for their sakes but for our own, in order that we may drink at the same springs of inspiration from which they themselves drank.”—Woodrow Wilson

“Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion.”—Calvin Coolidge

“It was the transcendent fortitude and steadfastness of these men who in adversity and in suffering through the darkest hour of our history held faithful to an ideal. Here men endured that a nation might live.”—Herbert Hoover
“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.”—Franklin Roosevelt

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”—Harry Truman

“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”—Dwight Eisenhower

“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”—John Kennedy

“War is always the same. It is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to kill a man you do not enven know well enough to hate. Therefore, to know war is to know that there is still madness in the world.”—Lyndon Johnson

“What we do with this peace—whether we preserve it and defend it, or whether we lose it and let it slip away—will be the measure of our worthiness of the spirit and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands who gave their lives in two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.”—Richard Nixon

“There is no more higher honor or more solemn privilege that to represent our nation in paying tribute to its honored dead.”—Gerald Ford

“We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”—Jimmy Carter

“The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves.”—Ronald Reagan

“The men and women who gave their lives in service to our country were dedicated to the worthy cause of freedom, and not one of them died in vain. From colonial America to the Persian Gulf, from places such as the Argonne to Normandy, Inchon, and Da Nang—they fought and sacrificed to others might live in peace, free from the fear of tyranny and aggression.”—George Bush

“You fought for freedom in foreign lands, knowing it would protect our freedom at home. Today, freedom advances all around the world, and for the first time in all human history, more than half of the world’s peoples chose their own leaders. Yes, America has made your sacrifice matter.”—Bill Clinton
“Their sacrifice was great, but not in vain. All Americans and every free nation on earth can trace their liberty to the white markers of places like Arlington National Cemetery. And may God keep us ever grateful.”—George W. Bush

“They, and we, are the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor, who wage war so that we might know peace, who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity, who paid the ultimate price so that we might know freedom.”—Barack Obama

“Honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America. Home of the free, because of the brave.”—Donald Trump

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. This sequential list of presidential quotes was produced from several sources, including “The Bully Pulpit: Quotations from America’s Presidents,” edited by Elizabeth Frost (“Facts on File,” 1988), various web sites, and President Trump’s tweet on Memorial Day in 2017.

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