Memorial Day honors our war dead, military veterans who paid the ultimate price to secure our nation’s freedom.
It officially began 144 years ago, with a proclamation on May 5, 1868, just three years after the Civil War had ended. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, who headed a group of Union army veterans, declared May 30 “Decoration Day.” It was a day to decorate the graves of the soldiers who were killed during the Civil War.
There were other days set aside a year or two earlier for the same purpose throughout the land, but it was Gen. Logan’s declaration that sparked the tradition of a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Today about 5,000 — the same number as in 1868 — participate in the Washington commemoration.
In 1971, Congress declared the day a national holiday, and officially moved the commemoration to the last Monday in May.
Over the years the holiday has morphed into a long weekend to take a short vacation, have fun at the beach, or go out shopping and look for sales.
Yet thousands of our nation’s families today will be mourning their sons and daughters killed in the past decade in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the fallen fathers and mothers in Vietnam or all those who died in other military operations in modern times. In all, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1.1 million American servicemen and women have died in this nation’s wars.
We must not forget them.
Gen. Logan’s order to his men in 1868 rings true today:
“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.”
Achieving an undivided republic becomes ever harder in these hyper-partisan times.
All Americans of good will have the opportunity today to set aside gripes about their government and misgivings about their political leadership and for a brief moment stand behind an undivided republic.
Spend one minute this Monday on prayer, meditation or silence at 3 p.m. local time, as encouraged by the National Moment of Remembrance. One minute to remember and honor those brave souls who sacrificed themselves for our nation’s security.
One minute. Then go back to shopping or sunbathing, or simply enjoying family and friends.
For notwithstanding the political cracks in the national soul, the United States remains a beacon for all those in search of a “free and undivided republic” — thanks to the bravery and ultimate sacrifice of 1.1 million Americans throughout our history.