Memorial Day Is an Observance

Op-Ed: Memorial Day Is an Observance

( – From World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans of every generation alive today have served in the military and fought for our liberties and rights. We never get used to our brave men and women coming home in flag-draped coffins. While this year feels different than any other in recent memory as some are still in lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we still owe our fallen men and women our remembrance.

I live in a small town in Pennsylvania. It’s pure Americana. Every year, there is a parade to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for America’s liberties and freedoms. There will be no such parade this year. It has forced me to be reminded of what the holiday is really about. I have descendants who fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, as well as both my grandfathers who were in WWII. I have cousins who served in the Army and Marine Corps. I served in the Navy and Army as well.

No doubt, you know someone who has served in the military. Perhaps you even know someone who gave their life in service to our country? Though they are no longer with us, Memorial Day is an opportunity to observe their sacrifice and to remember their lives.

Before It Was Memorial Day, It was Decoration Day

Memorial Day started soon after the Civil War, the deadliest conflict in American history. In the late 1860s, towns and cities all across the country held tributes to fallen soldiers. They decorated their graves with flowers and recited prayers. Decoration Day, as it was known, became a time around the country to remember the fallen every year on May 30.

On May 30, 1868, Union veteran soldier, Ohio Congressman, and future President James Garfield made the first-ever Decoration Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. 5,000 participants gathered that day to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

Garfield’s iconic speech began with a remembrance of those buried there, “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” He concluded his speech, saying, “Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love!”

As time passed and Americans fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, the country continued to find ways to honor the fallen. In 1966, New York declared Waterloo, NY, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. On March 7, 1966, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller said Waterloo was the place for the “first, formal, complete, well-planned, village-wide observance of a day entirely dedicated to honoring the war dead.”

In 1971, Congress passed a law that dedicated the last Monday in May to the fallen as a national holiday. Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries, hosting parades, and some even wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war. It’s a solemn time for the nation as we count the cost of war and pay our respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

If you have plans this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you have an amazing time with your friends and family. I certainly intend to as well. I just don’t want us to lose sight of why this special day is so essential to the life of our country.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

The above opinions are solely that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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