On Monday, we will celebrate Memorial Day in our country. I ask that we all take a moment to pause and reflect on the meaning of this important holiday. As we remember the fallen, we are once again humbled by their ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. In an attempt to restore the meaning of the Memorial Day holiday, Congress passed a resolution in December 2000, which asks that, on Monday at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.’”
In May 1868, Memorial Day was first officially proclaimed and observed via a general order prescribing flowers be placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The unofficial observance began some time before this with records from 1867 detailing a hymn titled “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping,” which carried the dedication to “The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.” After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor those who lost their lives not just in the Civil War, but in any war.
Congress approved Memorial Day as a federal holiday in 1971, but failed to retain the traditional May 30 date. Instead, it made the holiday a “moving holiday,” that always falls on a Monday, thus creating a three-day weekend. Perhaps lost among the activities is the fact that Memorial Day is a day to honor those who died in the service to our country. I observed the changing of the guard and the blowing of “Taps” at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery last week between meetings in Washington; and I could not help but be moved and thankful for the liberties we currently enjoy on behalf of those who gave all.
There have been many speeches and writings over the years that attempt to embody the sacrifice of the fallen, the pain and sorrow of those left behind and the gratitude of our nation. I’ve included one of my personal favorites written by Abraham Lincoln to a mother who lost five sons in the Civil War:
“Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
Excerpted from my union council newsletter. Be sure take a moment to say “Thanks” to a soldier or a veteran this Memorial Day. We don’t have to support the wars our elected officials get us into, but we need to support and remember our troops who do the fighting.