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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

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