The purpose of a memorial is to preserve the memory of something, someone or some group. It can be a monument, a park, a sports stadium, a bridge, a highway or it can be a day. In America, we set aside a day to preserve the memory of those gave their lives in our nation’s conflicts.
I came across a list of our country’s wars. It is an interesting list. It lists each war from the Revolutionary War up to the present along with the number of people who served in each and the number who died in each. I totaled the number of deaths. It was 899,578. What’s even more interesting is that 405,000 of those lost their lives in WWII. I’ve been in a sports stadium with about 60,000 people in it and I recall thinking what a large number of people this is. Even with that image in mind, it is a small group when compared to our nation’s casualties of war.
Take this day to reflect and give thanks for those who sacrificed so that we may continue to enjoy freedom. Have a great Memorial Day.
Captain Edward Luzadder
Memorial Day is a day to remember,
A fallen comrade or service member.
Yet to most, this is just another day,
Off from work with which to play.
For those who fought it is so much more,
As we remember our friends and family lost to war.
Remembering those who fought freedoms fight,
From the brightest day, to the darkest night.
These were people from all walks of life,
Who went to far off lands so full of strife.
There were those with nothing else to give,
Yet they gave all so someone might live.
The Origins of Memorial Day
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. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared it should be May 30. It is believed the 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 on the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and other Washington officials presided. 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.
Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.
Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of General Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.
In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were informal, not community-wide or one-time events.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day. The Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all America’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.
Many Southern states have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.
Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “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.”
The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave -- a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.
The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War more than 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”
In December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868
I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or other 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. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. 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.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and to assist those whom they have left among us as a sacred charge upon the Nation’s gratitude – the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
I. Department Commanders will use every effort to make this Order effective.
By Command of: N.P Chipman
John A. Logan
Adjutant General Commander-in-Chief
In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1872-1918
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
We shall not sleep, though poppies
A TIME TO HONOR. A
TIME TO REMEMBER
In 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the
Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30 as Memorial
Day. Decoration Day, as it was originally known, was
designated as a day to remember those who died during the
Civil War. Until World War I, the South did not recognize
May 30 and honored Confederate dead on separate days
throughout the year. Today, millions honor the Nation's
war dead on the last Monday in May, designated as the
Memorial Day federal holiday.
Revolutionary War - 1775-1783
Est. total who served: 184,000 to 250,000
Total deaths: 4,435
War of 1812 - 1812-1815
Total who served: 286,730
Total deaths: 2,260
Mexican War - 1846-1848
Total who served: 78,718
Total deaths: 13,283
Civil War - 1861-1865
Total Union forces - 2,213,363
Total Union deaths - 364,511
Est. Confederate forces - 600,000 to 1,500,000
Est. Confederate deaths - 133,321 to 164,820
Spanish-American War - 1898
Total who served: 306,760
Total deaths: 2,446
World War I - 1917-18
Total who served: 4,734,991
Total deaths (including those killed in the Russian
intervention August 1919 - April 1920): 11,516
World War II - 1941-1946
Total who served: 16,112,566
Total deaths: 405,399
Korean War - 1950-1953
Total who serve: 5,720,000
Total deaths: 36,568 (final list still being compiled)
Vietnam War - 1964-1973
Total who served: 8,744,000
Total deaths: 58,203 (final list still being compiled)
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm - 1990-1991
Est. total who served: 467,939 to 665,476
Total deaths: 382
Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and the
Philippines) - 2002-2003
Total deaths (unofficial): 80
Operation Iraqi Freedom -- 2003
Total deaths (unofficial): 133
Approximately 362 armed service members have died in
operations other than these major conflicts. These
include the Iranian hostage rescue mission, Lebanon
peacekeeping, Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Operation
Just Cause in Panama, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia
and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.