Memorial Day: A solemn responsibility

Memorial Day is not a happy day, nor is its primary purpose to give everyone a three day weekend – it is a day for a grateful nation to stop our daily lives for just a few seconds and remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy every day. So, while you are preparing your barbecue or packing up for your trip to the local park or beach, give me just a moment of your time.

Below is the speech my husband – Commander, American Legion Post 479, Poway, California – will give at Dearborn Park cemetery today. The audience he will address includes two remaining World War II veterans who will stand to attention for the entire service in homage to the many friends they lost. It will include, too, veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and Grenada, plus – like my husband and his buddies – Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, at 11:00 am local time, we will all pause and remember those who sacrificed their lives as well as those they left behind – the widows, widowers, and children who struggle every day to rebuild lives devastated by the real cost of war.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. The first observance of this sacred holiday occurred on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored and neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day and, while there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people even mistakenly believe that this day is for honoring any and all dead, not just those fallen in service to our country.

For those who have forgotten, or who perhaps never knew, and for all of us assembled here, too, I would like to end my remarks with a portion of General Logan’s proclamation from 1868 – a reminder of our duty to our fallen service members which rings as true today as it did all those years ago:

“Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us – a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude: the soldiers’ and sailors’ widow and orphan.”

Thank you for your participation today. May God bless the United States of America and the families of her fallen heroes.

Will you please take a minute today, just 60 seconds, to stop and remember our fallen war dead for all of the wars that the United States has fought, starting with the Revolutionary War that created this country? And if you have friends or neighbors who have lost family members, whether in our current war or in some previous conflict, will you take a moment of your time today to remember their sacrifice?

I now return you to your regularly scheduled three day weekend.