On Monday, May 25, we will celebrate Memorial Day to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. It has also become the unofficial beginning of the summer season.
For many, the latter has overshadowed the former.
We throw together a picnic lunch, slip into our swimming attire and head to the lake. After a fun day in the sun, we drag our sunburned bodies home to collapse in front of the television after our extended weekend of fun.
However, we must not forget the real reason we get to enjoy the extra day off. It is because of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
This day of commemoration began after the Civil War which ended in the spring of 1865 and was known as Decoration Day. It didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1971.
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, said on May 5, 1868, when he called for a nationwide day of remembrance.
On the first Decoration Day, 5,000 people came together at Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
The cemetery sets on 624 acres across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. It was established as the national cemetery during the Civil War and is the resting place of the dead of the nation’s conflicts.
By 1890, many of the Northern states had made Decoration Day an official state holiday on the same day, May 30. However, until after World War I, Southern states continued to honor their dead on separate days.
When it became a federal holiday in 1971, the date was changed to the last Monday in May. This gave us all a three-day holiday. However, with the extra day we too easily overlook the reason behind Memorial Day.
Our freedom in America is something we take for granted. We enjoy it, but too often overlook the price so many have paid so we can have and maintain our freedom.
This year with the COVID-19 pandemic heading to the lake might not be on the list of weekend to-dos, but is remembering the cost paid, the lives lost, the blood shed on battlefields around the world on your list?
On the frontlines, soldiers don’t get to take a holiday. They don’t get to relax and take a day off. Instead, they put their life in danger and too many have lost their lives so we can take a holiday.
There were an estimated 755,000 who died during the Civil War, about 520 a day. In World War I, the war to end all wars, we lost around 116,516, that’s about 279 a day. World War II saw about 297 lose their lives each day for a total of some 405,399. Vietnam cost 58,209 lives, Korea around 36,574, the American Revolutionary War totaled around 25,000, War of 1812 was about 15,000, and the Mexican-American War claimed some 13,283 lives. The Iraq War cost 4,576 lives and we are still fighting in Afghanistan. There are also smaller conflicts such as the Invasion of Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and many more.
This weekend will be a relaxing three-day holiday. Monday, many of us will be able to kick back and relax. As we do so, let’s take some time to remember and honor those who died so we can be free.