Decoration Day was first established in 1868 to honor fallen soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. The name was originally selected to describe the flowers and other decorations placed on grave sites. The name was changed to Memorial Day in 1967 because it more accurately reflected the true meaning of the holiday. Over the years Memorial Day was expanded to include the sacrifices made by those who died in World Wars I & II as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It was not made an official federal holiday until 1971 and was included in the “floating” schedule of federal holidays that allowed it to fall on the last Monday in May. Moving Memorial Day (as well as other federal holidays) to a Monday gave most Americans a three-day weekend in which to spend time with family and friends. It unofficially marks the beginning of summer and is usually celebrated with picnics and parades. Recreation and family gatherings however should not deflect from the true meaning of the holiday. Memorial Day is a day of solemnity when we give pause and thanks to the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure and protect our freedom. Freedom is a basic human desire and America itself was settled by immigrants seeking a better life and freedom from oppression. Freedom isn’t free and there will always be those wishing to exert control over others. The state of New Hampshire adopted as their motto the feelings shared by most Americans: “Live free or die.”
Today we have an all volunteer military force which means those who serve our nation understand and accept the risks attached to their service. Tyranny will flourish when good men and women are unwilling to come forward and stop it. The freedoms we enjoy today were purchased with the blood of countless soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is no greater gift than to lay down one’s life for another. America is not perfect (and never will be) but those who have died for us deserve our gratitude. The flag that so many wish to disrespect today was important enough for hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans to give their lives. Don’t let Memorial Day be just another holiday.