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Memorial Day: A Day of Honor for the Fallen

The last Monday in May can mean different things to people. For some, it signals the coming end of the school year and thoughts of summer vacation plans. Others are dusting off the grill for the first barbeque of the season, or gathering for a picnic and ballgame. Perhaps many are headed for a 3 day weekend beach getaway. However, for a lot of Americans Memorial Day is a revered time of the year in remembrance of the military heroes throughout the generations who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.

It is the day of honor set aside for the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who died on the battlefields in service to this country and what it represents. They answered a higher calling to defend the values and a way of life that was worth fighting for. I often wonder where we get such extraordinary citizens, who willingly stand in harm’s way for the protection and security of millions who will never truly ponder the historical cost of our nation’s independence.

Memorial Day has its roots in the earlier traditions of Decoration Day, which was a tradition of southern women who decorated the graves of the dead during the Civil War. Three years after the war ended the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Veterans, formally recognized Decoration Day and established it as Memorial Day. From then on it would be a time for the nation to pause in gratitude, and decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers in of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.

Maj. Gen. John A. Logan issued General Order No. 11 on May 5th, 1868, and declared that Memorial Day should be observed on May 30th. “…gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime….let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”

The first official observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. with ceremonies centered around the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. 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.

To quote Father Richard Welch from his noteworthy Memorial Day tribute” On this most solemn holiday, we must stop and consider the great sacrifices that others have made so that we may have the freedom and prosperity we enjoy. Let us consider what those valiant warriors were fighting for…and let us honor each and every one of them…with a prayer, and a pledge to restore to this nation the honor, morality, values and love of God for which they gave their lives.”

“Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –

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