A recent report stated that 55% of Americans did not know the true significance of Memorial Day. Survivors of the “greatest generation” are more likely to understand the true meaning of Memorial Day than are members of GenX. Very few families weren’t directly or indirectly affected with the personal loss of a loved one in the last “great war” our nation faced. With fewer Americans in uniform today battlefield deaths are more limited and fewer of today’s generations are members of Gold Star families. The “Gold Star” designation was initiated in WWI to honor families of service members who died during combat. In giving his famous Gettysburg Address President Abraham Lincoln used the expression “the last full measure of devotion” as a tribute to the soldiers of both sides who died for their cause. Members of the armed services sacrifice much of their own personal comfort and freedom to keep us safe and free. Life itself IS the “last full measure” that someone in uniform can give of themselves to their country. We should not need a special day in the year to remind us what others have done to secure our freedoms. The storming of Omaha Beach depicted in the movie “Saving Private Ryan” is a testimonial to the courage and bravery of American soldiers. This assault was an insurmountable mission yet our men demonstrated courage and bravery in the face of near certain death. Throughout history our men and women in uniform have demonstrated courage & bravery under fire. A popular expression today speaks to the bravery of our armed forces, “Land of the free because of the brave.”
The first Memorial Day was celebrated shortly after the Civil War (May 5, 1868) to honor the more than 600,000 troops killed on the battlefield (union & confederate). It was named Decoration Day at that time after the numerous flowers that were laid on the graves of the fallen. The official name change to Memorial Day took place in 1967 and it was made a federal holiday in 1971. It is easy for some to confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day but this is a day when every living veteran honors his/her fallen brothers and sisters. The 1% of Americans who serve in the armed forces today understand the risks but willingly accept them. “Freedom isn’t free,” and taking up arms is the only way to insure that freedom. Memorial Day is our opportunity to thank those for whom their greatest sacrifice was the “last full measure.” The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our ability to gather and honor the heroes who died in service to our nation. We can still fly the flag and/or visit the local veterans cemetery. It is important to remember that the fundamental principles of Memorial Day are patriotism and sacrifice. There is no greater gift than to lay down one’s life for another. We can’t expect to retain our many freedoms without the willingness of dedicated, qualified men and women willing to serve in defense of those freedoms. Enjoy your holiday but never forget that the freedoms we enjoy were paid for with the blood and the breath of hundreds of thousands of veterans. That sacrifice will continue to be required if we are to remain safe from enemies both foreign and domestic.