Memorial Day and the Ultimate Sacrifice

Arlington National Cemetery Chances are the first thoughts that come to your mind in association with Memorial Day are a long weekend, cook-outs and get-togethers, holiday weekend sales, the kickoff to summer…but is that really all Memorial Day weekend is about? Not by a long shot.

In an effort to help Americans remember the true meaning of this holiday – the sacrifices of our fallen heroes – “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in December of 2000. The White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance was thereby chartered to encourage and coordinate commemorations of Memorial Day. The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation

The history of Memorial Day is rich with tradition. Inspired by local observances held across America in the three years following the Civil War, it was originally called “Decoration Day” as it was a day to decorate the graves of those who had fallen in service to our country with flowers and flags. Although many cities claim to be its birthplace, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared in 1966 that this title belonged to Waterloo, New York, where a formal, community-wide observance was held May 5, 1866. By declaration of Major General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first national celebration to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers was held May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial Day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars following the conclusion of World War I. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, declaring Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May. Many Southern states continue to observe separate days of celebration to honor the Confederate war dead.

Over the years, although patriotic celebrations abound across the country, many Americans have lost sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day as a day to reflect upon the sacrifices of the service members  responsible for providing and protecting our many freedoms as American citizens. There are a number of ways to expand our awareness and appreciation of the Memorial Day holiday:  maybe read some personal stories of our national heroes, attend a holiday parade , or simply listen to the words in our patriotic anthems.

This year, let’s all do our part as Americans to put the memorial back in our Memorial Day!