It is easy for some to forget the meaning of Memorial Day. For me, it is a sacred day of remembrance, for I have served our great country in the U.S. Marine Corp. during the mid-1970’s. Memorial Day is a day to honor and thank all those who have served in the military, in times of war and peace. We remember all of those who have died in military service, more than 400,000 in World War II, more than 30,000 in Korea, more than 50,000 in Vietnam. Earlier this month, the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since the horrific day of Sept. 11, 2001, exceeded 6,000. Nearly 50,000 U.S. military service members have been wounded, although that number is likely to be revised upward.
The first Memorial Day (first called Decoration Day) was 30 May 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War. Gen. John A. Logan, U.S. Army, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, initiated the day of remembrance. He ordered that all Army posts decorate the graves of fallen Civil War comrades with flowers and a “suitable ceremony,” and that flags be flown at half mast until noon.
On this day the nation now honors those killed-in-action from all branches of the armed forces and includes all wars and conflicts in which American servicemen have made the Supreme Sacrifice for their country. In remembrance of these sacrifices, in a solemn ceremony, a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and since the late 1950s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the U.S. Army has placed small American flags at each of the quarter-million-plus graves in Arlington National Cemetery. The Army also stands guard in the cemetery through Memorial Day to ensure that the flags remain in place.
According to tradition, Memorial Day is observed by placing flowers or small flags on the graves of American servicemen who have fallen in battle. Americans are encouraged to visit military memorials and to fly flags at half mast until noon. They also are asked to fly the relatively new “POW/MIA” flag and to participate in a “Moment of Remembrance” at 3:00 pm and pledge to aid the families of the honored dead.