Monday is the day small towns and big cities alike around the country set aside to honor and remember the thousands of men and women who died defending our country and our freedom and stopping tyranny around the world.
Some were known as “Sarge,” “GI”, “Flyboy” and “Swabby.” There have been WACs and WAVES, Leathernecks, Navy SEALs, Spec Ops and just plain “Beth” and “Joe.” Folks closer to home use other names, like dad and mom, son and daughter, brother and sister, sweetheart, fiance, friend, and neighbor.
Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War. It’s a privilege to commemorate those who have served our country, with some giving what Abraham Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion.” The ever evolving United States had not yet begun to celebrate Memorial Day when Lincoln delivered his famous remarks. Little did he know that he was not just honoring the war dead and dedicating a cemetery, but much more. Lincoln urged on a still young nation to be dedicated to unfinished work — as he called it “the great task remaining before us” — of preserving our “of the people, by the people, for the people” form of government. He shared his determination that the nation remain united, that its people continue to forge a nation that’s forever one, and inseparable.
Imperfect as it is, it’s still a nation trying to live up to the vision in which it was conceived, the concept of a unified people, together dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.
In an almost forgotten piece of U.S. history, freed slaves staged what some historians called the first Memorial Day in Charleston, S.C., on May 1, 1865. Black Charlestonians along with white missionaries and educators stood in honor of them, sang hymns and recited prayers after the former slaves had spent the previous weeks seeing to it that the 257 Union soldiers got a proper burial and funeral, according to American Oracle: The Civil War In the Civil Rights Era, a book written by David Blight, a Yale University professor.
It wasn’t until a year later, that Waterloo, N.Y., celebrated what has been traditionally credited as the first Decoration Day. Soldiers were honored, their graves decorated with flowers, much like what had occurred in Charleston. Within a couple decades, the name of the holiday would be changed to Memorial Day.
There’s no better way to honor the men and women who have so nobly fought and died to defend our freedoms, than to recall that their service was for each one of us and for all of us together.