Tomorrow is Memorial Day in America, a legal holiday meant to honor members of our armed forces who have died fighting in our nation’s wars, large and small.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by Gen. John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.
It was first observed on May 30, 1868 by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1873, New York became the first state to officially recognize Memorial Day. By 1890, it was observed by all of the northern states.
The southern states refused to recognize Memorial Day, honoring instead their own dead on different days until after World War I, when Memorial Day was broadened to honor all Americans who died fighting in our nation’s wars. It is now observed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. possessions and territories, under the National Holiday Act of 1971.
Unfortunately, the intent of Memorial Day has fallen prey to the onslaught of crass commercialism. The barrage of so-called “Memorial Day” sales on everything from cars to cosmetics begins earlier and ends later every year. Now I’m all for profit, but not in the name of Memorial Day.
The true meaning of Memorial Day is further diluted by the tendency to lump all veterans, living and dead, into the observance of Memorial Day. It’s a free country, and we can honor anyone or no one at all. Still, there is a distinction here that makes a difference. As Billy Ray Cyrus wrote and sang, “Some Gave All.” Memorial Day is meant – and rightly so – to honor those who “gave all.”
From our Revolutionary War to our Civil War, through World War I and World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflicts of choice and necessity, American men and women have fought and died in battle. Reminiscent of Tennyson’s classic poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” it was “Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die.”
Now, it is ours to reason why Memorial Day deserves its singular distinction: to honor those Americans who truly “gave all,” in defense of our nation. Locally, we can do that tomorrow by attending the ceremony held by American Legion Post 173, VFW Post 5064, and their respective auxiliaries at the Warren County Memorial Airport. The program starts at 7 a.m. I hope to see you all there.
Another great way to honor those who “gave all” is by donating, perhaps in memory of a fallen family member or friend, to the Tennessee Fisher House Foundation, P.O. Box 774, Brentwood, TN 37024-0774.
The best way to honor our fallen is to demand of our national leaders, civilian and military, the “reason why” their decisions to go to war are in our nation’s vital interests, and for causes worthy of our nation’s sacrifice in blood and treasure.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.