Recognizing the Debts We Owe

We Owe Those Who’ve Gone Before – and Who’ve Sacrificed So Much That We Might Have the Blessings We Do – a Debt of Gratitude This Memorial Day

By Ken K. Gourdin

Writing for the Deseret News, James F. Burns describes a different kind of national debt with which Americans should concern ourselves, especially this Memorial Day. (See James F. Burns, “National debt not just financial issue – honor owed to those who gave us freedom,” Deseret News, accessed on line at on May 25, 2015). He describes a soldier landing at Normandy during World War II, writing that we owe that soldier “a debt of gratitude for defending our freedom from foreign domination.”

He describes a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He points out that the aim of the delegates was to “shape our shared governance into a form for maximizing individual liberty while providing for our national defense and other necessities where joint action is optimal,” writing that we owe the delegates a debt of gratitude “for giving us a governmental model that’s the envy of the world.”

If one doubts Burns’s foregoing assertion, writing in 1992, former University of Chicago Law Professor and Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks noted:

The United States Constitution was the first written constitution in the world. It has served Americans well, enhancing freedom and prosperity during the changed conditions of more than two hundred years. Frequently copied, it has become the United States’ most important export. After two centuries, every nation in the world except six have adopted written constitutions [endnote omitted], and the U.S. Constitution was a model for all of them.

Dallin H. Oaks (February 1992), Ensign, “The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” accessed on line at on May 25, 2015.

Continuing his assessment of a different kind of “national debt,” Burns writes of two nurses, both angels of mercy in the highest sense, one who cared for a Confederate soldier and one who cared for a Union soldier during the Civil War, saying that both women “helped us survive a national crisis that led to freedom for all Americans and kept us welded together as one nation under God. We owe these women a debt of gratitude for selfless sacrifice.”

Nor, Burns notes, is our debt of gratitude limited to those who served on the battlefield. Had not people on the homefront kept their critical needs supplied, they would not have been successful in their battle for freedom. Burns writes, “We owe a debt to all our producers, the Ed Burnses and Rosie the Riveters, whose sacrifices sustained our supply chains during time of war.”

Further, Burns notes the crucial contributions of civic-minded individuals who perform such public service as serving as coaches, mentors, and tutors, who vote and are otherwise active in the political process, including serving their communities in elected and appointed offices. These people, Burns notes, “form the fabric of a civic and moral-minded citizenry that the framers of our Constitution knew was needed to sustain liberty and freedom in an open society.”

Burns concludes, “let us be more aware of this second and deeper national debt. We stand on the shoulders of sacrificing and courageous ancestors of the past and selfless soldiers, workers and caregivers of the present.”

Let retired Utah district court Judge Don V. Tibbs, recently profiled in the Deseret News, serve as a proxy for all of those to whom we owe such a debt of deep gratitude, both for his military service in World War II and for his service to the public on the bench. (See David Mackey, (May 25, 2015) “Utah judge, former soldier recalls highlights of 90 years,” The Deseret News, last accessed on line at the following address on May 25, 2015: Mackey’s profile of Tibbs notes:

The decorated veteran’s thoughts often return to the war front where pain and suffering was evident all around. He witnessed first hand the terrible price paid for freedoms many Americans today seem to take for granted. He recognizes the great sacrifice individuals have made to preserve liberty [and to ensure] the triumph of justice over oppression and tyranny.

Indeed. Along with Burns and Tibbs, may we be mindful of such sacrifices (and may we honor those who made them), not only on Memorial Day and on other patriotic holidays, but throughout the year.


About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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