I grew up in Albany, Wisconsin, a rural farming community—population 1,012. In my youth, like many, I viewed Memorial Day as the unofficial start to summer; and, like many kids, I viewed it as freedom: freedom from school. That weekend was our town’s weekend of festivities, starting out with the Friday-night street dance, followed by a weekend of small-town carnival rides and parades. It was one of the most anticipated weekends of the year. I look back with fond memories of epic proportions.
Although I wouldn’t appreciate the significance until I got a little older, the weekend was marked with somber reminders of family and friends lost to wars fought abroad. Memorial Day started off at the American Legion with a 21-gun salute followed by “Taps.” Even as a kid, I remember walking away in deep reflection. It’s hard to hear those touching notes and not walk away moved by it.
It’s important to know what Memorial Day is and what it is not. Memorial Day is not about giving thanks to veterans; that’s Veterans Day. It’s not to give thanks to our active-duty military; that’s Armed Forces Day. Memorial Day is for remembering the men and women who died while serving our country; that is, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
It originated in 1868 as Decoration Day and was celebrated on May 30 to remember the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War. The name, “Memorial Day,” was first used in 1882, but it didn’t become the official name until 1967 by federal law. The following year, it was moved from its traditional day to the last Monday of May. In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which asked people to stop at 3 p.m. and take a moment to reflect on those who have given their lives for our country.
It’s important to pass on to future generations the gravity of Memorial Day and what it means to remember the fallen. We all have our own traditions on Memorial Day—whether it be to attend a parade, place flowers on the graves of those who were lost, attend a cook-out, watch the Indy 500 the day before, etc.
But the most important thing is to remember those who gave the ultimate price when our country called upon them. GW