We commemorate Memorial Day to honor the American men and women killed in U.S. wars. The event began just three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, with a declaration by Maj. Gen. John A . Logan. On May 30, Decoration Day came to be. It was meant for Union families to decorate the graves of their war dead, and for many years there was a Confederate version, too, until eventually Americans came together for one national observance on the same day.
When Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971, it moved to the last Monday in May, and over the years it has become a long weekend, the unofficial start of summer with barbecues and maybe a little shopping for sales.
In South Florida, it has also become a draw for Urban Beach Weekend on Miami Beach, but let’s not let this holiday slip by without the true recognition it deserves.
Americans should not forget what Memorial Day really means. There will be many who are mourning the loss of their sons or daughters, their husbands or wives, their fathers or mothers, their sisters or brothers on this day. These Americans served their nation with honor and paid the ultimate price, regardless how any one of us might feel about the necessity for going to war.
This past Thursday the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment conducted the “flags in” event where American flags are placed at all the graves — more than 267,000 — at Arlington National Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day. On Monday at 11 a.m. the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns will draw thousands to the cemetery, and the president will once again speak of our soldiers’ sacrifice. And throughout Florida there will be local events, parades and speeches for Memorial Day. Sadly, attendance for those commemorations has been slipping.
Let’s vow to do better.
This is a time for reflection as a nation. And for our leaders to ask: Who are we and what do we stand for?
The essence of the United States of America has always been liberty, the freedom to be. And our troops have gone wherever they are called to protect Americans’ freedoms, even in wars we should never have entered into. Those soldiers, seamen and airmen and women did not pick their battles, they followed orders.
More than 1.4 million Americans have died serving our country in the military since the Revolutionary War. The count of the fallen since the war on terror began a dozen years ago continues to rise. And even as we are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, other hot spots challenge our troops — and our leaders. How we approach those challenges can save American lives. War should not be our first response, but our last resort.
On this Memorial Day let’s vow to never forget those Americans who have done so much for the rest of us. Keep them in your thoughts and in your heart as you celebrate this unofficial start of summer because we owe them our freedom.