Too many Americans fail to grasp the true meaning of this weekend’s holiday.
While Memorial Day may unofficially serve as a time to barbecue, go to the beach or celebrate the beginning of summer, its true meaning is much more important. The national holiday is set aside to pay tribute to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice – dying in armed conflict in order to preserve the freedoms you and I enjoy daily.
Although it did not become an official federal holiday until 1971, Memorial Day was celebrated long before then. Its earliest origins actually trace to Columbus, Mississippi, where women in the community began in April 1868 to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers, especially the Confederate soldiers who had died in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Out of respect, they also decorated the graves of Union soldiers, who had been the enemy only a couple of years earlier.
Other towns had similar traditions, and what was then known as Decoration Day began to grow across the country. During World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. It was long observed on May 30, until Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. That law went into effect in 1971.
The total number of Americans killed in all U.S. wars is more than 1.1 million. According to PBS figures from 2015, that total includes:
- Revolutionary War: 4,435
- War of 1812: 2,260
- Indian Wars: 1,000
- Mexican War: 13,283
- Civil War: 498,332
- Spanish-American War: 2,446
- World War I: 116,516
- World War II: 405,399
- Korean War: 54,246
- Vietnam War: 90,220
- Persian Gulf War: 1,565
- Global War on Terror: 6,852
As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when American soldiers led the push that resulted in victory during the Second World War, we have fewer living voices who can tell the stories of that conflict and of those who died in it. That’s why it’s up to us to preserve their memory and pass along their stories. To that end, the Daily Journal will host a D-Day banquet on June 6 at 11:30 a.m. at The Hub in the Journal Business Park. World War II veterans will be recognized at the event, which also will feature special guests. For tickets, visit DJournal.com/dday.
It is up to us to honor the memory of those who sacrificed for us. Be sure to take time this weekend to think about those heroes who are most deserving of honor and appreciation.