As a nation, we have seen a concerning decline in the shared values that once united us. Rapid polarization, spurred by social media and unprecedented low levels of trust in the media, has highlighted our differences and downplayed the common ground we share as Americans.

In such times, Memorial Day stands as a testament to an inherent unity that transcends political divides and ideological chasms. As we grapple with a precipitous decline in patriotism and the growing divide in our society, the commemoration of Memorial Day can serve as a bridge to our shared values and history.

Memorial Day, a descendant of the tradition known as Decoration Day, was born out of the ashes of the Civil War, the nation’s bloodiest conflict, and a testament to the dire consequences of division. After the battlefields grew silent, America embarked on a painful but necessary journey of healing and reunification.

The war took a staggering toll, and it is estimated that 620,000 soldiers died as a result of combat, accident, starvation, and disease. That is approximately equal to the total of American fatalities in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. Loss touched nearly every community. It was during this period that the tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags began.

Multiple cities claim to be the birthplace of this tradition, including Columbus, Mississippi, where a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the Battle of Shiloh. Noticing that nearby Union soldiers’ graves were bare, they placed some of their flowers there as well, making a poignant statement about unity and shared sacrifice.

Despite the bitterness and resentment that lingered, these women recognized that for the nation to move forward, it needed to come together again.

More than 150 years later, these actions serve as a reminder that profound differences can be overcome. Memorial Day summons us not just to remember but also to rekindle our shared commitment to each other. It calls upon us to look beyond our divisions and disagreements and see the values and history we share. To honor the fallen is to honor what they fought and died for: one another, unity, democracy, and the promise of a better tomorrow.

Reestablishing our shared American values won’t happen overnight. It requires open dialogue, understanding, and, most importantly, a willingness to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. After all, unity does not imply uniformity. Our strength lies in our ability to stand united, even amid our differences.

Addressing this also requires us to rekindle the flame of patriotism in our communities, starting with our homes and schools. We must educate our children about the sacrifices that secure their freedom and opportunities. They should be told stories of bravery, honor, and selflessness and let these stories inspire in them a love for their country that transcends the superficial. Veterans should be message-bearers, volunteering and visiting schools to share their experiences and rally children around common ideals. This call to action could not come at a more critical juncture, as only 9% of young people show a propensity to serve in our armed forces.

Therefore, as we observe Memorial Day, let us remember its roots. Let us remember that it sprang from shared mourning in a fractured nation. It bred a common respect for service and sacrifice and a collective desire for healing and unity. In reconnecting with these roots, we might yet find a path toward the unity and patriotism our country so dearly needs.