For nearly a century and a half, Americans have come together at the end of May to celebrate a day honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. While we enjoy the warmer weather, cook-outs, and spending time with friends and family, it is important to remember the real meaning behind this holiday.
Although there are different versions of how Memorial Day began, one story goes that the grieving soldiers’ families, both north and south, began decorating the graves of their lost loved ones with flowers and wreaths. In one city in Mississippi, people decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate troops out of respect for the families of the Union Soldiers, and with the hope that someone would do the same for their lost loved ones in the North.
These informal honors led to the first formal Memorial Day observance in Waterloo, New York, on May 5th, 1866. Congress officially recognized Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, as a federal holiday in 1887. Just as they do across the country today, small American flags were placed on each grave in memory of the service the fallen soldier had given to the country.
Since then, many traditions to remember fallen soldiers have come and gone, but it is more important than ever to celebrate and remember the over 1.3 million Americans who have died while fighting in our nation’s wars. These Americans are sons and daughters, moms and dads, husbands and wives. We must ensure the significance of this day is not lost. We owe a deep debt to those who have served and sacrificed, and their families who bear the burden of their absence.
This Memorial Day, let’s commit to do more to help and honor our veterans and their families. Together, we should make a constant commitment to raise our youth with respect for our history and the sacrifices made by millions to preserve this land of freedom, opportunity and safety.
American soldiers come from all walks of life and many of them are ordinary citizens who do something extraordinary. Millions of them have died defending our freedoms and way of life. This Memorial Day, as we watch parades and enjoy time with family and friends, take time to reflect and remember those from our hometown and across the country who have served and fallen but will never be forgotten.