Commemorating Memorial Day

Posted on 24 May 2014


 

The origin of Memorial Day dates back to the period immediately following the Civil War when ladies of the South began decorating graves of deceased Confederate soldiers.  The day was termed Decoration Day.  This practice was adopted by the Union and later would be called Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor and respect the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the freedom of our country.

 

In the years after its inception, Memorial Day was a solemn occasion to remember the honored dead of America’s wars.  Americans used this day as an opportunity to decorate the graves of our fallen heroes with flowers, wreaths, and flags, as well as spend some time reflecting on the fallen and the sacrifices they made.

 

Maybe, it was a mistake to proclaim the day a holiday.  In today’s world, holidays are perceived as joyous occasions, times to relax and recreate.  Memorial Day is most often celebrated with picnics and barbecues for friends and family.  For most, it is hardly a day to visit cemeteries and reflect on our lives and the lives of those whose sacrifice preserved our freedom to enjoy the holiday.  And, the decision to change the date of Memorial Day to accommodate a three-day weekend only served to further promote the image of the day as a festive occasion.

 

Presently, Memorial Day is perceived as the kick-off to the summer season, a weekend to flock to the seashore or the mountains.  Retail businesses have seized upon the day as an opportunity to entice shoppers with a day off from work to spend some of their hard earned dollars.  With travel, shopping, and get-togethers with family and friends, there is little time for thought and even less for visits to cemeteries to decorate the graves of those who made this day possible.

 

To preserve the intent of those Southern ladies who created a day to honor and respect soldiers who died in the service of the Confederacy, Memorial Day should have been proclaimed a national day of mourning and not a holiday.  In consideration of the sheer numbers of American soldiers who have died on foreign soil in the cause of freedom, a somber day of reflection would seem more appropriate than a frantic day of shopping and overindulgence.

 

As a reminder of the magnitude of the debt we owe to our fallen soldiers, one need only review the statistics.  In the aftermath of World War I, the United States Congress enacted the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to administer, operate, and maintain American Cemeteries on foreign soil.  The ABMC currently administers 25 burial grounds on foreign soil where there are interred 124,908 war dead including 30,922 from World War I, 93,236 from World War II, and 750 from the Mexican War.

 

In addition, there are 14,907 American veterans in the Mexico City National Cemetery. 94,000 names of soldiers missing in action are memorialized at World War I and World War II cemeteries.  From the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, there are 8200 and 2504 names of unaccounted for soldiers.

 

As you can see, the number of war dead interred or missing on foreign soil alone is staggering. But, the real casualties of war are the families of these men and women who will be thinking and praying for their lost loved ones on this Memorial Day.





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