Monday is Memorial Day — once known as Decoration Day — and a time to honor the brave men and women “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Those words belong to Gen. John A. Logan, of the Grand Army of the Republic, who gave a general order on May 5, 1868 to make the day a national holiday, and the first Memorial Day was observed three weeks later on May 30, 1868 in Waterloo, NY — a serene oasis in the heart of the Finger Lakes which, 98 years later, President Lyndon Johnson has the official birthplace of the holiday.
While there are many stories about the originator of this important day, its credit is widely believed to lie with Henry C. Welles, a Waterloo druggist who, in the summer of 1865, waxed to friends that praise was equally due to the Civil War’s living veterans and its patriotic dead.
Memorial Day should be a nudge to everyone who values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and one which needs to be re-introduced to a new generation of citizens and immigrants which might be unfamiliar with its history and meaning beyond it being the official start of summer and a day of sales for thrifty shoppers.
A country displays its true heart by the way it treats its dead, and too many American towns are no longer holding Memorial Day parades, our flag etiquette has become a neglected chore and the graves of our war heroes have been left to rot at many cemeteries. America’s deceased include the valiant colonists and citizens who perished in the 26 military conflicts fought in this country’s nearly 234 history — from King Philip’s War [1675-1676], Queen Anne’s War [1702-1713], the Revolutionary War [1775-1783], the Mexican-American War [1846-1848] and the Civil War [1861-1865] to World War I [1914-1918], World War II [1939-1945], Vietnam War [1960-1975], Persian Gulf War [1990-1991] and the Iraq War [2003-present day]. Some other forgotten US conflicts include King George’s War [1744-1748], Cherokee War [1759-1761], Barbary Wars [1801-1805;1815] and Creek War [1813-1814].
According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1980 to 2008, 45,706 Americans died fighting in military operations so that their fellow men, women and children could have a better tomorrow.
Thankfully, here in Brooklyn, thousands turn out for the numerous Memorial Day Parades that turn our streets from Bay Ridge to Canarsie red, white and blue. But we should all remember our fallen heroes.
So, in between the barbecues and the bargains, take a moment to commemorate the selfless members of the US Armed Forces whose contributions have enhanced the stability, abundance and health of this nation, and without whom all that we value and hold dear would cease to exist, or even matter.
Whether in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard or the Reserves, American soldiers are second to none. This critical wave of defense has helped make the United States the undisputed leader of the Free World. It has catapulted our standard of living onto new plateaux, engineered the best national protection system known to mankind, and made the American Dream possible for everyone, everywhere.
On Monday, we congratulate the person responsible for the continuation of this great land — the American soldier who made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.