Memorial Day – The True Meaning of the Holiday

Every year around Memorial Day time, veterans struggle to get the real meaning of Memorial Day across to the public. It is often not distinguished from the other military national holiday, Veterans Day. They are very different for one very powerful and important reason. Memorial Day is a day of solemn remembrance. On Memorial Day we remember specifically all those who have fallen while serving the nation in times of war. Veterans Day is a day set aside to honor the living, all who have made the commitment to serve in the nation’s Armed Forces in wartime and in peace.

Here are some more specific things to contemplate around the national holiday called Memorial Day. On May 30, 1868, Ulysses S. Grant, the former Commanding General of the Union Army, who led the Union armies to victory over the Confederacy during the American Civil War, led the first ever remembrance service for those who had fallen during that terrible war. The event was called Decoration Day, and it was held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Photo: YouTube/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

After the global conflagration that we have come to call WWI, Decoration Day became a day to remember all of those who fell in wartime service to the nation from the Revolutionary War to WWI. Decoration Day would be made an official national holiday in 1971, and the name would be changed to Memorial Day to reflect more clearly the purpose of this national holiday.

Memorial Day is marked by a more somber tone. It is a memorial of the fallen. It calls us to honor those who have paid the ultimate cost of war in sacrificing their lives in combat and in so doing, honored their oath of enlistment: “I _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Photo: YouTube/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Over time, the Memorial Day holiday has become for most people the unofficial beginning of summer and is celebrated with barbecues and a three-day vacation opportunity. Most probably do not even participate in any actual Memorial Day services or events. But the reason for this national holiday must not be forgotten. Those who it memorializes represent the true cost of the freedoms that we all enjoy. Their sacrifices have up to now kept the promise of our freedoms codified in the Constitution of the United States alive and functional. It is of ultimate importance that we be reminded of that cost, that we be challenged to remember it every year and to pass on the importance of those sacrifices to our children.

It is critically important for all of us as Americans to remember that “Freedom is not Free.” It makes demands on us, calls forth from us a sense of duty, a responsibility of terrible importance in those unwanted times when grave dangers threaten the nation’s well-being, even its very survival, brought on by threats from outside and from within. Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on those who gave their lives out of that sense of duty and personal responsibility toward something larger than themselves.

Photo: YouTube/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

There is nothing wrong with barbecues and three-day weekend vacations, but on this particular holiday, it is both proper and important to carve out an hour or two to attend a local Memorial Day service. If you know a Gold Star Family in your area, call them, remember that they too have made the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of their family member(s) in war. Maybe you could take the family to a local veterans memorial cemetery for a few moments of reflective thought or prayer for those who have fallen. Tell the younger generation some of the stories of those that maybe you have known who made the ultimate sacrifice. This is not just a holiday for military families. It is the duty of the nation to remember and to honor the memory of those who died in service to us all. That too is the cost of freedom.

Enjoy your national holiday three-day weekend; it is one of the gifts of freedom that we all get to enjoy because of those who took up the ultimate duty of citizenship in times of war and paid the cost with their lives. And, in the midst of the enjoyment of the three-day weekend, take a few moments of that time to remember. It is good for the soul of the nation.

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