Memorial Day has come to represent many things, from the unofficial beginning of summer to a day for a trip to the mall in search of sales. But we, as a nation, never should forget the true meaning of Memorial Day and why we observe it as a holiday each year.
The three-day weekend is an occasion for cookouts, trips to visit friends and relatives, time at the beach and an extra day off from work. With gas prices dropping, hundreds of thousands of Americans are on the move.
That’s fitting in a way. We, as a nation, are enjoying the fruits of democracy and freedom, the uniquely American way of life.
But as we celebrate, we also need to reflect on the sacrifice required to preserve those values. We need to remember those who died to keep us free and to allow successive generations to live and prosper in a land of plenty.
The Memorial Day observance began humbly in 1868 as a day for the families of Civil War dead to take flowers to their graves. The holiday first was known as Decoration Day.
But after World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to honor not only those who died in the Civil War but also in every conflict that claimed the lives of Americans. In 1971, it was made an official national holiday to be held each year on the last Monday in May.
Sadly, Americans still are dying in a war on the other side of the world. While we now can see the beginning of the end of the decade-long war in Afghanistan, our troops are committed to remain for nearly two more years, to continue to remain in harm’s way in the name of national security.
We look forward to the day when we can celebrate a Memorial Day on which no American troops are involved in combat.
But Memorial Day, as its name implies, comprises a long roster of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Today, in particular, we honor those who died in World War II, whose comrades now are nearing the end of their lives.
We also honor the thousands of Americans who died in the Iraq War, now officially ended but still fresh in the nation’s memory. For so many, the grief of losing loved ones in these recent wars still is raw and ever-present.
So, as we enjoy this three-day weekend and the fun of being with family and friends, let us stop at least for a moment to remember the sacrifice of so many over the course of our history and the debt we owe them. Let us also reach out to those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one.
Let’s enjoy the holiday but not forget why we are privileged to do so.