Memorial Day was originally referred to as Decoration Day and honored those who fell fighting to preserve our Union during the Civil War. The first official recognition of Memorial Day was on May 5, 1868 when General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order No. 11. The order designated May 30, 1868 as a day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church-yard in the land.” After World War I, Memorial Day became a day of remembrance honoring Americans who have died in any war. Up until 1972, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th each year. The current three day weekend with Memorial Day falling on the last Monday in May is the result of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90-363) which ensured a three day weekend for Federal holidays.
On Memorial Day, the flag is raised to the top of the staff and then lowered to half-staff. It remains at half-staff until noon. The half-staff position is in remembrance of the men and women who died in service to our country. At noon the flag is raised to full staff and represents our resolve that our honored dead shall not have died in vain but that we will continue to fight for liberty. At 3 pm on Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” calls on the nation to observe a moment of silence or listen to Taps.
I also found two startling statistics: (1) over one million men and women have fallen in all of America’s wars; and (2) over seven thousand service men and women have fallen since 9/11, and that does not include contractor personnel who support our troops. It’s always sobering to stop and think that each of the fallen left behind family: a mother and father, wife or husband, brothers and sisters. Each loss represents a painful void in a family, a community, a nation. On May 31, 1982, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. These words from President Reagan’s speech sum up Memorial Day for me:
I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.
Yet we must try to honor them—not for their sakes alone but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men [and women], surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.
Please make sure you stop and honor our fallen this Memorial Day. God Bless them and keep them and God Bless their families. God Bless all those in harm’s way defending freedom. Please also keep those contractor personnel who have fallen while supporting our troops around the world in your thoughts and prayers.
Finally, thank you to all those who serve our country–those in uniform and in civilian service as well as contractor personnel. We are all in this together.