The first Memorial Day was held on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. It was the result of a proclamation by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization made up of former Union soldiers and sailors.
During that event, the first national commemoration of what would become known as Memorial Day, a speech was given by a sitting U.S. Congressman and former Union general (and future president) by the name of James A. Garfield. In his speech, he said the following powerful words: “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
These words make a fitting contemplation for all of us on this Memorial Day and all those that will come after it. This day is distinguished from Veterans Day. It is set aside for one very hallowed group only, that is, those who have fallen in battle, those who have given their last full measure in combat in all of the wars that this nation has fought, for love of country. It is called Memorial Day, as it is to remember the sacrifices these men and women have made, to honor the cost they paid in order to protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and all of the rights and liberties therein.
It is appropriate on each Memorial Day to reflect on the cost of freedom. Though this tradition began after the Civil War, it was made an official National Holiday in 1971. We are to understand that Memorial Day is now a remembrance of all who died in service to the nation in our military from the Revolutionary War to the present. In that sense, it is an opportunity to remember in the abstract all those who have fallen in combat from the beginning of the country to the present, but it is also, for many today, a day to honor their immediate family members who have made that ultimate sacrifice.
It is the duty of the nation to honor these men and women, for it is their sacrifice that has made this nation possible and has maintained the longest political experiment in human freedom for 246 years. It is the paradoxical nature of the day that it is mixed with the emotions of both loss and humble awe. For many alive today, the pain of loss is still raw and present. We must never forget that that ultimate sacrifice is shared by the living, especially by the Gold Star Families who today mourn and endure the loss of their loved ones on the field of battle.
Such things as these willing sacrifices that so many have made during our history must never be allowed to fade from memory. It is the knowledge and the living memory of the terrible cost of freedom that has been paid by so many that keep the desire for that freedom alive and well. Those who forget their history are inevitably lost in the present.
So, this Memorial Day, make a point of attending a local Memorial Day ceremony, or visiting one of the National Cemeteries around the country, or telling your children the story of one person you may have known, or a person from history, who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. Speak to them about why that is important. That will make this Memorial Day something other than just a four-day weekend.
To remember is to know where you’ve come from and sharpen your sense of where you want to go.Whizzco