Memorial Day Motivations

Romanticizing D-Day Ignores Thousands of Civilian Deaths

“Saving Private Ryan” has been called the “greatest war movie” ever made. I know it certainly seemed realistic to me when I saw it. It made me appreciate what soldiers went through on D-Day in 1944. The story line for “Saving Private Ryan” has Captain John Miller and some soldiers survive Omaha Beach and then are pulled away from their duty to search for Private James Ryan. Their mission is to bring him out of harm’s way so that he can go home as the last surviving son of the Ryan family.


The movie is loosely based on a true story of the Niland brothers of Tonawanda, NY. America had established the “Sole Survivor” policy after the five O’Sullivan brothers died on the same Navy ship in WWII. The policy essentially states that if a family lost sons due to war, the remaining son did not have to serve. [Greg Timmons, “Saving Private Ryan: The Real Life D-Day Backstory.”; 7.1.2019]


Some observations from which we will make some applications in honor of our Memorial Day.

  1. Their Mission was a Man – Private James Ryan
  2. There was a great, sacrificial cost to rescuing Ryan
  3. The final words to Ryan from Captain Miller who was Killed In Action saving him: “James, earn this. Earn it.” That is, “Live a life worthy of the efforts and sacrifices of Captain Miller and his men in rescuing him.”
  4. The value of a man and of a family
  5. Motivation for living – at the end of the movie, Ryan, his wife, and children visit Miller’s grave at Normandy, France many years after the war. Ryan speaks to the grave: “Every day I think of what you said to me on the bridge, and I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough.” He then turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I am a good man.” She replies, “You are.”


Memorial Day should be a profound holiday to Americans on many levels:

  • Personal, especially if we have lost someone in combat
  • Family
  • National
  • Even a spiritual level


We owe so much to the Patriots who have been willing to lay down their lives for us. “Saving Private Ryan” is the story of his fellow soldiers saving a family’s lone survivor. Nothing was held back, not even loss of life, to save him.


There seems to be a blend of guilt and gratitude that motivated Ryan to live a good life and be a “good man.”


It seems to me that this blend of emotions should also be motivational for us. In fact, citizens of the countries that America has freed should feel the same emotions as well. But we Americans have lived freely because of the willing sacrifices of American Patriots all the way back to the American Revolution – our War for Independence. They fought for Liberty – for themselves and their posterity – us.


You may recall the famous speech of Patrick Henry when he spoke to the second Virginia Convention regarding the hostilities with Great Britain and said:

“. . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Henry’s speech roused the Convention. It also declares to us the high view that he and other Patriots had of Liberty and the price that they were willing to pay.

This is further echoed in a letter from George Washington to the people of South Carolina (Circa, 1790):

The value of liberty was thus enhanced in our estimation by the difficulty of its attainment, and the worth of characters appreciated by the trial of adversity.

I think that many Americans today do not appreciate the Liberty we have because they did not pay the price for it. It’s easy to toss Liberty away when you didn’t pay for it.


There is also a “spiritual level” to Saving Private Ryan as well as a patriotic one. Whether intended or not (I doubt it was intended in what we discover about Hollywood), there is an application to Jesus and His mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Captain Miller and his men paid the ultimate price to rescue James Ryan and perpetuate the Ryan name. Jesus, of course, paid the ultimate price of laying down His life for those who are lost in the world. Listen to His words in John 10:17-18 (ESV):

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

His words, especially the final seven sayings on the cross challenge us to “earn” or live up to the life worthy of the Savior’s sacrificial gift. Go back and read those words. Do they stir your heart to live for Him?

Paul wrote this in Philippians 1:27 (ESV):

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ . . .

That is, live up to it. As Miller said to Ryan, “Earn it.”


It is clear in Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) that we cannot literally “earn” our salvation but, we can live out the gospel in our lives.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


We can live up to God’s standards through Christ. We can live out what God has put in us by grace through faith. As God’s workmanship we reflect the goodness of the LORD in our lives.


Captain Miller’s mission in “Saving Private Ryan” paralleled Jesus’ mission. They both involved:

  • A person – Miller saved Ryan and Jesus saves YOU. Yes, God loved the whole world and gave His Son (John 3:16), but He also loves the individual and gave Jesus for EACH one of us (Galatians 2:20 (ESV) – . . . And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.)
  • There was a great cost – willing loss of life – it’s the “greater love” Jesus spoke of in John 15:13.
  • There is an emphasis on the value of family (Genesis 1-2); Ephesians 3:14-15 (ESV) – 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
  • A motivation for living – Ryan thought of the sacrifice of Miller and his men every day and it motivated him to pursue a better life. Do you think of Jesus and His intentional sacrifice for you? Does it motivate you to be a better person? 2 Corinthians 5:14 (ESV) states, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;”
  • An evaluation – Ryan asks his wife to evaluate his life as he reflected on the scene of years ago when he was rescued from the devastation of war. There is a time to “examine ourselves.” How does God see us? How do others see us? We can “fool some of the people some of the time” but we cannot fool God any of the time. At the judgment scene in Matthew 25, nations will be gathered before King Jesus and their secrets will be revealed, good and bad. Our walk of faith or lack of it will be revealed. Our motivation for faithfully walking with God is wrapped up in who Jesus is and what He has done on our behalf.


Memorial Day is officially about remembering those who died in combat on behalf of our nation. It should be a day of gratitude and a day of patriotic fervor. It is symbolically and spiritually tied to the sacrifice of Jesus for us.


How will you spend Memorial Day?

  • A Day Off?
  • A picnic?
  • A Family Day?
  • A Gratitude Day? (To patriots, but especially to our God)


I want to encourage you to:

  • Remember what we have been given.
  • Remember our stewardship obligations.
  • Spend some time reflecting on our ancestors – both of the nation and in the faith.
  • Thank God for the Liberty He has given us in Jesus.
  • And then, go out and “earn it” or live up to what we have been given.
Keep The Light Burning!
Dr. Perry Greene