May 30th is Memorial Day in the United States, the day we honor all those who fell in battle over the years to protect our rights and freedom. It’s not a day of joyous celebration, but rather one of somber reflection on the many heart-wrenching sacrifices made by ordinary men and women during the course of our history. It’s not about department store sales or sporting events or pounding back the brewskies. It’s about this:
The exact origins of Memorial Day vary, but it’s clear the holiday came into being as a result of local tributes to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The local citizens of many communities visited cemetaries in the spring in order to decorate graves and pay tribute. In 1868 the head of an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers designated a special day as a time to decorate the graves of the war dead throughout the United States. Major General John Logan declared May 30th as Decoration Day, and a large observance was held that year at Arlington Cemetary.
By the end of the 19th Century, ceremonies were being held around the nation on May 3oth of each year. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American Wars. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a holiday by an act of Congress, to be held on the last Monday in May.
Historians note that these types of observances reach far back into antiquity. Pericles paid tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Peloponnesian War by saying: “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.”
It has always been thus.
To all those who made the ultimate sacrifice we offer our thanks and gratitude. And to their families, may peace and comfort be yours.
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