For many of us Americans, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season. So it can be easy to forget how Memorial Day came about in the first place, and why it is important for us to continue to commemorate and celebrate it.
According to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day, and the first major observance of it was held at Arlington Cemetery in May 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. The graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers, and a variety of government officials, including General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant presided over the ceremonies. Toward the end of the 19th century, Decoration Day was celebrated around the nation on May 30. In 1971, Congress officially named Memorial Day as a national holiday to honor those who have died in all American wars, and designated the last Monday of every May as the date of its observance.
As we come upon another Memorial Day, it is a good time to reflect on its meaning and its significance in our daily lives as Americans. Below are some thoughts to consider:
- “Freedom is Not Free”.
This quote is attributed to retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Walter Hitchcock, and is engraved on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. All too often, we forget how many American lives were sacrificed to uphold and protect the values that were instituted by our founding fathers and upon which we have built our American identity and culture. We forget that there are still many places in the world where the basic human freedoms that we take so much for granted are ignored, consistently violated, or downright taken away.
- Protecting basic human rights can go against our basic human tendency for survival.
Because our human instinct for survival is so strong, we tend to do things that will PROMOTE, rather than jeopardize, our survival. Those that have fought and died for our basic human rights consciously put their lives in danger for the greater good. They gave the ultimate human sacrifice for the sake of the rest of us.
- We can stand up for what is right, to honor those who gave up their lives for us to be able to do so.
There are many opportunities in our daily lives to stand up for what is right, such as reporting bullying behavior at school, alerting your company’s management to unfair treatment of fellow workers, or becoming active in local politics to create and maintain fair laws and policies.
On this and every Memorial Day, let us remember the ultimate sacrifice that those who have died in American wars have made for us and for the greater good. And may we be inspired to appreciate, uphold, and celebrate the basic human rights which we Americans enjoy, as a result of the ultimate sacrifice made by other fellow Americans.