On Sacrifice

Tomb of Unknown Soldier, Armistice Day, 1924 11-11-1924

Photo credit: Library of Congress

The concept of sacrifice has been in public discourse a great deal lately. It is welcome to hear discussion of what actually constitutes sacrifice in so open a way among our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. Though Calvin Coolidge never lived to see the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 let alone the attacks we remember unfolding on this unforgettable day seventeen years ago, he expressed his sentiments on the meaning of sacrifice many times.

Though written in the context of a veto against salary increases for state legislators, one of our favorite observations by Calvin Coolidge, especially on this day, remains:

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

As more than one cogent American has noted today, such an honor goes to men like Tom Burnett, who with a group of the passengers aboard United Flight 93 resolved to “do something” rather than timidly submit to whatever their captors demanded. They refused to sit quietly and observe all the nice culturally-imposed rules of postmodern conflict resolution. As such, they saved many more in the path of evil plans. Devout and determined Americans like Tom Burnett gave everything they could give when life itself was at certain risk. Would they act anyway to save others they would never meet, souls who would never thank them, children, wives, and family they would never see again – at least on this side of eternity – and honors they would never see? Their actions define the very essence of sacrifice.

The Tom Burnett Foundation was formed in 2002 with the same giving spirit its namesake had for others, especially for the encouragement and development of good citizenship and faithful leadership in our young people. May no one ever have to experience what Mr. Burnett and others faced on this day in 2001 (having fully counted the cost of doing nothing). But if America is to endure it will only come through the same caliber of sacrifice and moral courage he gave in his final hour.


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