Memorial Day Honors America’s Fallen Heroes
On Monday May 29th, America paused to honor the memories of those who gave their lives in defense of our nation and freedom. Memorial Day maintains special significance as America’s troops remain abroad, protecting our freedom and establishing it for others.
In 1866, the United States was recovering from the long and bloody Civil War between the North and the South. Surviving soldiers came home, most of them young, all of them changed forever by their experience. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, came up with an idea to encourage the healing process while paying tribute to the recently returned veterans. He suggested that all the shops in town close for one day to honor the soldiers who were killed in the Civil War and were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5th, flowers, wreaths and crosses were placed on the graves of the Northern soldiers in the cemetery. At about the same time, Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan planned another ceremony, this time for the soldiers who survived the war. He led the veterans through town to the cemetery to decorate their comrades’ graves with flags. It was not a happy celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it Decoration Day.
The two ceremonies were combined in 1868, the concept spread elsewhere, and northern states began to commemorate the day on May 30th. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and soldiers who had died in previous wars were honored as well. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the last Monday in May. Today, government offices, schools, banks and post offices close, and the majority of Americans are able to celebrate the day as a three-day holiday. Increasingly, citizens are taking the time to recall exactly why they have a day off, and who to thank for it.
Memorial Day is truly a day of reflection, and of personal and public remembrance. Families and individuals come together to honor those who have given their lives as the ultimate sacrifice. It is a day to remember our fallen heroes – deceased, but not defeated; gone, but not forgotten. Now more than ever, it is crucial for our government, but even more importantly, for our fellow citizens, to embrace every opportunity to acknowledge the gifts of soldiers past and present who have given all of us the priceless gift of freedom, liberty, and safety at home from our enemies abroad.