Unless you are among the 1% of Americans who have served America in military service, you can not fully understand the meaning of Memorial Day. Military service means that any moment could be your last. Despite that knowledge you made a choice to protect family and country. There is an expression among service members that we fight not because we hate those before us but because we love those behind us. There is no greater gift than to lay down one’s life for another. This is the one holiday that has been officially designated to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of others. The first Memorial Day took place on May 5, 1868 to honor the over 600,000 soldiers lost on both sides of the Civil War. It was initially called Decoration Day for the flowers that were laid upon the graves of the fallen. Each year thereafter graves were “decorated” with flowers to honor the sacrifices made by everyone involved. The name was changed to Memorial Day in 1967 by federal law and also made a federal holiday in 1971. There is an oft-repeated expression, “America is the land of the free because of the brave.” Memorial Day is our opportunity to say “Thanks” to those who did sacrifice with their lives to keep us free. We also should remember the sacrifices of families who have lost spouses, parents or children to hostilities. We are able to celebrate this holiday thanks to the bravery of average Americans who defended the America we love.
There have been times in our nation’s history when it was necessary to “draft” capable individuals into military service. For most of our history, however, good men and women have volunteered to defend our freedoms and values. The advantages of an all-volunteer force are many. It ensures that those serving have made a dedicated commitment and will give their best effort to every task. It also attracts individuals of higher intelligence and personal integrity. Freedom isn’t free and each military member understands the risks involved. President Trump was criticized for saying to a fallen soldier’s widow, “He knew what he signed up for.” That is what makes Memorial Day such a special holiday. Those who died in service entered the military knowing the potential for death or dismemberment. As you relax with family or friends on a long weekend, please honor and respect those who have died to keep us free.