Memorial Day is one of those holidays that comes and goes without too much preparation or fanfare, other than the day off that most of us get—unless you work in retail. Where it came from and why we celebrate it at all is mostly forgotten…like too many other holidays.
But, much like Independence Day (or July 4th, as it’s mostly called now), there’s more to Memorial Day than hamburgers, hotdogs, beer and swimming pools. Its origins may or may not go back to the days when ladies decorated the graves of Civil War veterans. Which is why, even now, older folks still refer to it as Decoration Day. Many cities and towns lay claim to having the first one. It’s come to be a day to honor all Veterans, which is fine, but we have Veterans Day for that in November. Some people also take this time to remember all of those who have passed on, for whatever reason, veteran or not. That’s also fine, but it’s important to remember one thing: whenever and however it started, it definitely began as a way to remember those who lost their lives in service to their nation.
Whatever it’s about for you personally, here’s what it should be about for all of us:
Memorial Day is about the young soldiers of the Revolution—some as young as 15 or 16—who trudged through the snow of Valley Forge, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind them because they no longer had boots to wear. It’s for the soldiers, dressed in blue and gray, fighting to their deaths in Antietam. It’s about the sailors who were going about their business one Sunday morning in Hawaii when terror came suddenly by air from a faraway enemy. It’s for the ones whose last action on earth was running toward a beach in Normandy…and for the young soldiers who battled the desert heat on a Middle Eastern battlefield, only to lose their lives to an explosive device planted by a cowardly enemy without a flag or a nation.
Memorial Day is meant to honor those who go places most of us aren’t willing to go, and do things most of us aren’t willing to do. The armed forces are one of the last places we have left where people really understand the concepts of duty and responsibility. Sure, there are always a few bad apples in there—even among those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But it’s because of them that we have the freedom we’ve had for more than two centuries. You can never say “thanks” enough for that.