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Intersection of sacrifice and freedom

Abraham Lincoln took it upon himself to write the following letter to the grieving mother who lost all five of her boys – she and they offered up the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of a young nation.

The letter is as follows:

Executive Mansion,

Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Can you imagine being the mother on the receiving end of this letter?

We can’t truly know this mother’s reaction but we understand the ultimate paradox of grief and her pride that she faced.

This letter played a pivotal role in the movie, Saving Private Ryan. When the commanding general learned that private Ryan’s three brothers had been killed in combat, an argument began among the other military leaders regarding the risk involved in finding the private and returning him to his mother. As the conversation progressed, the commanding general walked over to his bookshelf and removed an old letter which was written by president Lincoln. He proceeded to read it to his officers. Upon finishing, the general said the following: “If the boy is alive, we are going to get him the hell out of there.”

During the reading of the letter the scene of private Ryan’s mother observing two military vehicles approach her farm unfolds . In the vehicles an army officer and chaplain notify her of the death of three of her four sons.  After seeing the military insignia on the cars, she walks outside on her porch and soon collapses.

The letter serves to underscore one of America’s core values — the bedrock that America is built upon —-  freedom is not free. We live in a nation where service men and women continue to willingly rise to the occasion when America’s liberty is threatened. But this willingness and sacrifice,  made for the sake of our freedoms, is carried by more than those that fight and die on the battlefield —-  it is also born the families and loved ones who are left.

Mission Force exists to honor and support service men and women and their families who have given us so much. Our goal is to help them live more fully through reintegration programs so that they may enjoy the freedoms to which they have so willingly sacrificed.   We have another goal: we want to make visible their sacrifice — we simply refuse to ignore those who give the most. We are doing this by sharing the stories and lives of these selfless people with America.  Our hope is that once seen, each of us can incorporate their indomitable spirit of sacrifice and unselfishness.

Greg Wark, Executive Director Mission Force

To learn more about Mission Force or to donate please visit  https://missionforce.org

About Mission Force: 

Since 1996, Mission Force has helped service men and women across America successfully transition to civilian life so that they can truly come back home —  body, mind and soul.  We offer a variety of programs, what we call “Warrior Reintegration” which includes:  Transition Assistance,  helps veterans convert their military training, skills, and talents into valuable skills that can be applied to civilian life; Emergency Crisis Support, addressing the everyday battle that some of our service members face once returning home; Marriage and Family Development to strengthen marriage and families;  Equine Therapy, which encompasses a range of treatments through activities with horses. Donations welcome! https://missionforce.org/product/donation/


(Here’s the original letter)


Lincoln’s Letter to a mother that had lost five boys in Civil War.



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