On May 30, 1868, a crowd of more than 5,000 gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for the first Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) observance. Before placing flowers on the graves of the deceased, the crowd listened to an address by James Abram Garfield, then an Ohio congressman and former Union major general during the Civil War.
This was the first such address at Arlington National Cemetery and it was meant to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who had lost their lives during the Civil War. Garfield, who would later be elected 20th President of the United States, told the gathered crowd about the importance of the day and why it should be commemorated. It should also be noted that after the end of the First World War the meaning of the day was changed to honor all war dead, not just those who perished during he Civil War
The tradition persisted and every May 30th people would “decorate” the gravesites of those who had given their life in the service of their country in time of war. Then in 1971 Congress designated the day a national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May.
America has lost 1,200,000 brave men and women since we can began counting such things after the Revolutionary War, and many more remain in harms way around the globe as you read this.
Today we don’t thank a soldier, a sailor, an airman or a Marine for his or her service, that sentiment is appropriate on Veterans Day. Rather today is a time to reflect, remember and give thanks to those who gave their last full measure in defense of our way of life.
A very dear friend and highly decorated combat veteran ends his emails with a quote taken from a signpost at the former Marine Corps firebase at Khe Sahn, Vietnam, “You have never lived, ’till you almost died. And for those who fight for it, life has a flavor that the protected will never know.” And while that quote will certainly resonate with those who’ve experienced combat firsthand, there’s another perspective most Americans don’t necessarily think about.
Lest we forget, the men and women we honor today weren’t just warriors, they were sons and daughters; they were someone’s brother, sister, mother or father. They were people just like you and me; they were young men and women with their whole lives in front of them, young people who had hopes and dreams of their own. They wanted families, they wanted to watch their children grow up. They wanted to read bedtime stories and teach their kids how to ride a bike, fly a kite, make mud pies, to say excuse me at the dinner table and to look both ways when crossing the street.
But they will never wake up on Christmas morning to watch their kids open presents or walk their daughter down the isle. They will never tuck their children in at night or celebrate a golden wedding anniversary or partake in the many things we take for granted, such as just being there for a loved one during times of sickness or duress, or simply growing old with their spouse.
So today it’s important to acknowledge the men and women who sacrificed then, so we could enjoy our freedoms now. And it would be a most welcome gesture, especially in front of our children, to reflect upon the reason for this three-day holiday and offer a moment of silence to those who made our freedoms possible. And on a more personal note I want to say “Semper Fi” to Al, KK and Sgt. Kalka; you are not forgotten brothers.
Quote of the Day: “America without her Soldiers would be like God without His angels.”—Claudia Pemberton