Reflecting on Memorial Day: Honoring Joseph Warren and the Unnamed Heroes of Bunker Hill


This Memorial Day, let’s draw a lesson from the first famous individual who perished in combat for the United States. Then, reflect on the countless unnamed who died that same day and in the years that have followed.

Joseph Warren, a renowned Boston physician, was the man who, in April 1775, tasked Paul Revere with the midnight ride to alert that the redcoats were advancing towards Lexington and Concord. Warren was caught in the ensuing ad hoc skirmish. Two months later, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Revolutionary War’s inaugural pitched confrontation, General Warren fought alongside front-line privates and held his ground against two redcoat onslaughts before falling in a third assault when his ammunition was exhausted.

Although the colonial militia eventually had to retreat, its staunch defense inflicted far more casualties on the enemy than it suffered. This experience significantly contributed to British generals’ subsequent reluctance to engage in full-frontal attacks. It can be reasonably contended that American independence hinged on this British caution invoked by the valor displayed at Bunker Hill.

Warren also left behind a moving call to arms that encapsulates the spirit present in virtually every American military death since then. After Lexington and Concord, Warren’s mother implored him not to engage in combat again. His response: “Wherever danger is, dear mother, there will your son be. Now is no time for one of America’s children to shrink from the most hazardous duty. I will either set my country free or shed my last drop of blood to make her so.”

Warren is deservedly remembered as a hero. So too were the 134 other militiamen who perished with him at Bunker Hill, though only one, Maj. Andrew McClary, is typically highlighted in history books. There lies a lesson.

Those 134 others, like Warren, had mothers, children, spouses, siblings, and friends whose mourning was no less profound than that of Warren’s family. Their sacrifices for liberty were equally significant. Their fears, bravery, pain, and patriotism were not of lesser note.

The same holds true for the other 1,304,570 estimated U.S. combat deaths since that notable battle in Boston, and the thousands of deaths in training and other exercises. For every renowned Quentin Roosevelt, Joseph Kennedy Jr., Glenn Miller, or Ernie Pyle (technically a reporter but considered part of the platoons) killed in action, tens of thousands of valiant souls are remembered not just on tombstones or Pentagon records, but whose ultimate sacrifice is honored collectively rather than individually.

In Warren’s words, they performed their “hazardous duty” and “shed [their] last drop of blood” for the cause of American freedom and honorable goals worldwide. While it may seem trite to say that the debt we owe them is immeasurable, such sentiments remain true. Indeed: immeasurable, incalculable, and often comprehended only by those of us secure in our homes.

Pause momentarily today to offer a prayer of gratitude for their service. As Warren did, they faced danger and bestowed upon the free world a precious heritage.

Truth Voices
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