11/11/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Abraham Lincoln's Words of Wisdom

Inside the temple that pays homage to Abraham Lincoln -- in addition to the larger-than-life image of the man -- are complete texts of his most famous speeches. I suppose he's the only American politician deserving of a memorial large enough, and whose greatest orations were short enough for this to be possible.

Lincoln's image is flanked by the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. Both acknowledge the sacrifices of the U.S. military. One refers to the necessity of caring for families bereft by war.

The Lincoln Memorial faces the dome of the Capitol across the expanse of the National Mall, which is replete with symbols of historical sacrifices of those in military service.

Every name on the Vietnam War Memorial recalls a veterans' sacrifice and a family's grief. Every gold star at the World War II Memorial represents a hundred of the same. Tucked away in the less imposing D.C. War Memorial are names of district citizens lost in World War I.

Among the monuments to freedom that populate the mall are reminders of the price paid to secure it, not just for our own country, but for others as well.

At the Korean War Memorial, an inscription says: "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met."

The wide front steps of the Lincoln Memorial provide a wide view of the mall and are usually buzzing with sightseers. Few take the time for a quiet walk around the back of the structure to look across the Potomac River toward Arlington House. The former home of Robert E. Lee is situated on the crest of a hill, the highest point of what is now Arlington National Cemetery.

Laid to rest there are many who paid the price for our nation, for the decisions made by every president since Lincoln. Some paid by giving their lives for their country. Others paid by living lives of service to their country.

Last week we reelected our president. Some Americans danced in the streets at midnight. Others cried into their coffee the next morning.

On election night, I followed the news and commentary on social media. Opinions were thrown around carelessly. Frustrations vented bluntly. Victory celebrated exultantly. Freedom of expression is a privilege Americans love to exercise, and so we should.

We heard plenty of expression in the long run up to this election. Words count, but actions count more, and now it's time for action. Time for leaders to make tough choices and tougher compromises. Time for citizens to accept hard truths. As Americans cling to our rights we also must realize our responsibilities.

Pundits shake somber heads over our polarized country. They say we're divided. We're also balanced. If one side can't overrule the other, then both sides have to work together. This is the stuff kindergarteners know, but Congress seems to forget.

On Veterans Day we honor those who serve America and the president without regard to politics. Our nation's leadership should care for veterans on the same equal footing. This means supporting them and their families, of course, but more importantly, it means crossing party lines to do what's best for the nation our veterans offer their lives to preserve.

Try whining to Mr. Lincoln about the ideological war between red and blue states. He might point out that the war between the Blue and the Gray involved real bullets and real blood, as well as a moral chasm.

Lincoln's words on healing for this nation are carved in stone. On election night, a young Army wife posted them on Facebook. They are as applicable in the electronic age as they were at the presidential inauguration of 1865:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Terri Barnes, a military wife, writes Spouse Calls weekly for Stars and Stripes. Contact her at or at