Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of May, which falls this year on May 31st. It is the unofficial start of summer, and generally hallmarked by barbecues, movie openings and mattress sales.

Last year it was a decidedly somber affair. City parades and other group remembrances were cancelled as a result of the COVID pandemic. We may not be completely back to “normal” this year, but families will at least be able to gather and honor Memorial Day as they have in years past.

What is your tradition? How will you be honoring the friends, family and fellow Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the nation?

Carl Forsling, a Marine Corps veteran, said the “best way to think of Memorial Day is not as a national military funeral, but as a national wake. We’ve already shed our tears for fallen comrades. There’s nothing wrong with shedding a few more, especially for the recently departed, but a better way to cherish their memories is to spend a moment reflecting on all the good things their sacrifices enabled the rest of us to enjoy.”

Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day,” was officially proclaimed by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11 in 1868

General Logan asked that we cherish “tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes. Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.”

Logan suggested that the graves of the war dead be guarded “with sacred vigilance … Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

After World War I, the day was “expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.”

One hundred years after Logan’s proclamation, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill in a move to use federal holidays to create three-day weekend. Thus Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars later issued a statement saying, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”

But in 2000, President Bill Clinton passed a resolution asking all Americans to observe a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3:00 p.m. on each Memorial Day “to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”

According to Miltary.com, since the Revolutionary War ended, 646,596 American troops have died in battle and more than 539,000 died from other, non-combat related causes.

Just one moment of remembrance, once a year, doesn’t seem like much to ask, does it?

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