Memorial Day! The phrase elicits memories of my childhood when school was out, the first days of summer vacation, baseball, family reunions and barbecue. It also was the day each year, which we visited the graveyard of some of our family members for the years we lived off and on in Kansas City, Missouri.
As I got older, my memories were of our sons being out of school, planning their Boy Scout Summer Camp; the infamous safety slogan back in the day of “101 Days of Summer.”
Historically, there is a little more to Memorial Day than what I described above. Originally, known as “Decoration Day,” this holiday originated after the Civil War by General John A. Logan who on May 5, 1868, called for a nationwide day to remember those who paid the ultimate price in defending their country. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
On the first Decoration Day, at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield gave a speech and participants decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. After World War I, the holiday that originally honored those who died during the Civil War, evolved into honoring all U.S. military personnel who died in all wars.
Several other changes happened after that. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, and established Memorial Day on the last Monday of May and a federal holiday.
There are some who say the origins of honoring those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian statesman and general, Pericles, offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War, which took place over 24 centuries ago and could be applied to the millions of service members who have died in our nation’s wars. “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not in stone but in the hearts of men.”
We as a nation too often forget our past…we forget what it took to obtain, maintain and retain the liberties we so often take for granted today. From the beginning of the shots fired at the British at Lexington, Massachusetts, the War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War to the conflicts we are involved in today, men and women from the United States have given their lives to maintain the liberties we have enjoyed for over 240 years and in many ways given the freedom of choice to those countries we fought for and with.
One of my favorite quotes was from President John F. Kennedy.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Today, too many times the commercialization of our holidays surpasses the holiday’s meaning, and it’s truly sad. I even get caught up in the hoopla of sales events tied to this holiday until I take a step back and remember why we created these holidays.
I challenge you, on each and every holiday, regardless of your beliefs and opinions to take the time and remember, research, read and understand the meanings of why these holidays exist.
Take the time to share that with your friends, peers, brothers, sisters, and children and let us not forget.
Since my article’s title is about Memorial Day, I leave you with the words that go with Taps, written by Major General Daniel Butterfield:
Day is done...
Gone the sun
From the lake...
From the hills...
From the sky.
All is well...
God is nigh.
Dims the sight
And a star....
Gems the sky....
Falls the night
Have a great and wonderful Memorial Day.