American Presidents Speak on Memorial Day

What They Have to Say About Brave Hearts

'Flags In' Ceremony held at Arlington National ahead of Memorial Day
Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place American flags at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day May 24, 2012. 'Flags-In' has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948. Win McNamee / Staff/ Getty Images News/ Getty Images

Humanitarian, educator, and former tennis player Arthur Ashe once said, "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." As Memorial Day approaches, spare a moment to think about the many soldiers who died fighting for liberty.

American Presidents Speak on Memorial Day

The 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, expressed it beautifully, "Only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free." As another American president, Abraham Lincoln, put it, "Freedom is the last, best hope of earth." Lincoln steered the country through the Civil War, saved the Union and ended slavery. Who better to define freedom for us?

On this page, read some of the best Memorial Day quotes from American presidents. Read their words of inspiration, and understand the heart of an American patriot.

John F. Kennedy

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Richard Nixon, 1974

"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 in Vietnam."

"This Memorial Day should remind us of the greatness that past generations of Americans achieved from Valley Forge to Vietnam, and it should inspire us with the determination to keep America great and free by keeping America safe and strong in our own time, a time of unique destiny and opportunity for our Nation."

"Peace is the real and right memorial for those who have died in war."

Benjamin Harrison

"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."

Woodrow Wilson, 1914

"I believe that soldiers will bear me out in saying that both come in time of battle. I take it that the moral courage comes in going into the battle, and the physical courage in staying in."

"Therefore this peculiar thing comes about, that we can stand here and praise the memory of these soldiers in the interest of peace. They set us the example of self-sacrifice, which if followed in peace will make it unnecessary that men should follow war any more."

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

Lyndon Johnson, 1966

"On this Memorial Day, it is right for us to remember the living and the dead for whom the call of their country has meant much pain and sacrifice."

"Peace does not come just because we wish for it. Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone."

Herbert Hoover, 1931

"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."

"An ideal is an unselfish aspiration. Its purpose is the general welfare not only of this but of future generations. It is a thing of the spirit. It is a generous and humane desire that all men may share equally in a common good. Our ideals are the cement, which binds human society."

"Valley Forge has come indeed to be a symbol in American life. It is more than the name for a place, more than the scene of a military episode, more than just a critical event in history. Freedom was won here by fortitude not by the flash of the sword."

Bill Clinton, 2000

"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 the world’s people choose their own leaders. Yes, America has made your sacrifice matter."

George Bush

1992

"Whether we observe the occasion through public ceremony or through private prayer, Memorial Day leaves few hearts unmoved. Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor." 

2003

"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."

2005

"Looking across this field, we see the scale of heroism and sacrifice. All who are buried here understood their duty. All stood to protect America. And all carried with them memories of a family that they hoped to keep safe by their sacrifice."

Barack Obama, 2009

"They, and we, are the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor, who waged 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."

"If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that while they could not know they’d be called upon to storm a beach through a hail of gunfire, they were willing to give up everything for the defense of our freedom; that while they could not know they’d be called upon to jump into the mountains of Afghanistan and seek an elusive enemy, they were willing to sacrifice all for their country; that while they couldn’t possibly know they would be called to leave this world for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms."