“It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom; and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
– President Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address 1863
The Memorial Day holiday traces its beginnings back to the end of the Civil War. On May 5, 1868, General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order 11, which decreed that flowers be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize this day of remembrance was New York in 1873. By 1890, all northern states recognized the holiday. Former southern states honored their dead on other days until Memorial Day was changed to honor Americans that died fighting in any war following World War I.
The idea of a Memorial Day spread to other countries during the 1920s, including France, Belgium, and Great Britain where the occasion not only became a day of remembrance of those killed in World War I, but was also used by various service organizations to raise money for the families of those soldiers by selling artificial red poppies as a symbol of their sacrifice.
In 1971, the United States Congress passed the National Holiday Act, making Memorial Day an official Federal Holiday. Although this bill may have taken the focus of the holiday away somewhat, many communities continue to have Memorial Day parades, flag displays, and other events that show patriotism and pride for the nation.
One of the most honorable Memorial Day traditions occurs at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. On the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division place small American flags on each of the 260,000 gravestones. Then, soldiers proceed to patrol the cemetery day and night ensuring that each flag remains standing.
I ran across this piece that I wrote about 3 years ago as a member of my employer’s Diversity Council. I remember thinking at the time that while all the Diversity activities and learning were nice, it is vital that the meaning of the classic American holidays not get lost. Especially the meaning of this one, Memorial Day.
It seems to me that the overall environment in this country is one of dissatisfaction with just about every aspect of life. Citizens are concerned about jobs, the economy, the status of their mortgage, their 401k, the price of Gasoline, and other myriad of details of everyday life. Meanwhile, we are still fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya in the War on Terror that began on one of the most terrible days in American history, September 11, 2001.
It is certainly understandable that with concerns such as these, it may escape some people’s attention just how important this holiday is. This is not just another 4th of July or Labor day where the main aim of the day should be to kick back and relax, watch a pretty fireworks show, and stuff ourselves at a backyard BBQ. Instead, this is a holiday intended as a day of remembrance and thanks for those Americans before us who have given that “Last Measure of Devotion..” in the form of their lives to ensure that this country remains free.
So, let us pause in reverent thought on this day of those who have served this country. Let us lift them and their families up in our prayers of thanks. But most importantly, let us NEVER forget, or allow time or other forces to cheapen their sacrifices. Each American who has served this Nation in her Armed forces entered that service because they knew that America was a place unlike any other. A shining city upon the hill, showing a light that has consistently guided others through the darkness of an otherwise dark world. Those men and women have served, and many times died in defense of that place. They sacrificed their time, their treasure, their relationships, and their duties as parents and family members to guard and protect the rest of us.
Let us not let their sacrifice have been in vain.
Thank you to all Veterans and their Families,
One Thankful American.