Once again we are celebrating the beginning of summer with the Memorial Day holiday weekend. As with every Memorial Day in the United States, the summer begins with backyard and poolside barbecues, the Indianapolis 500, professional and peewee baseball. Sometimes, certain geographic regions of the country even get to enjoy some playoff hockey.
It is, indeed, a special time with family and friends.
Lest we forget, however, the holiday is intended to be much more. In the enjoyment of all of the “normal” Memorial Day activities, we should never forget that an incredible sacrifice has been made by all American service men and women, current and past, who have gone to the defense of our country with the primary motivation of protecting all of our freedoms and our way of life. Among others, those sacrifices include leaving loved ones for extended periods of time while exposing ones self to severe physical and emotional harm, to suffering terrible battle injuries that can never be forgotten to making that “ultimate” sacrifice of giving one’s life for our country.
It is important that we remember those that have served and Memorial Day provides a great opportunity to do just that.
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Major General John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
Taking pause to remember the many sacrifices of those who served in all wars is not only appropriate but an obligation of all of us that have benefited, and continue to benefit, from their efforts. Few veterans of World War II remain today and those veterans, as well as those who served in the Korean War, Viet Nam and the Middle East should be commended for their service and thanked at every possible opportunity.
So enjoy the sun, the good food, the baseball, hockey and family and friends. But as you do, please make sure you thank a veteran this weekend! We must let them know that their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten!