Honor, reverence and remembrance. Those are the true purposes of Memorial Day. Hard as it may be for some to grasp, those concepts are far more important than picnics or “blow out sales” on furniture, mattresses or automobiles.
Memorial Day is about remembering those who died for our freedom. That’s it, pure and simple.
It’s not the same as Veterans Day. That holiday is in November and rightly celebrates and honors all who have served in our nation’s armed forces.
Yes, this national holiday does signal the coming of summer. But Memorial Day is meant to be much, much more than that.
For those who understand its meaning, Memorial Day is — as it should be — a solemn holiday.
Originally, it was called “Decoration Day, ” but there is great debate about its actual origin. At least two dozen cities and towns across the country claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.
But that matter was settled, as a political issue at least, in May 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
While some of the history is sketchy, we do know that the first actual proclamation was issued by Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the U.S. Army, declaring May 30, 1868, as the day when flowers were to be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
That began a somber tradition that has been expanded and remains today.
Each Thursday immediately before Memorial Day since the 1950s — the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is known more famously as “The Old Guard” or “Escort to the President” — place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.
The soldiers from the regiment then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. It is a touching sight and a sobering tribute, indeed.
Unfortunately, much of the nation has lost touch with this original purpose of the day, especially for those who have no close ties to the military.
Pleasure, comfort and convenience have replaced honor, reverence and remembrance.
For many the holiday merely serves as cause for barbecues, picnics and family gatherings, which are great. But in the midst of it all we should never forget that many have died so that we can enjoy such pleasures.
We owe them and their families a great debt of gratitude. At the least, we should take time to offer a simple thank you and, perhaps, to explain the real meaning of the day to our next generation. They should know that without the grandest sacrifice by their forefathers, we would not be the nation we are today.