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Editorial Memorial Day a meaningful, solemn day

Initially known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day to remember all the military men and women who have died in service to the country.

It’s a solemn day of remembrance and honor; a day for every citizen across the nation to be thankful for the freedoms they enjoy, and to be grateful to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms.

Why remember?

According to an article in the May issue of VFW Magazine, shared with the Focus by a local Ladies Auxiliary member, we remember because “sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.” America’s collective consciousness demands that we be aware of, and recall on special occasions, the deaths of our soldiers during times of war.

Who are we remembering?

All Americans who died defending their country, in any and every war since 1775. They’ve come from all walks of life and every corner of the nation, but they all have one thing in common – love of and loyalty to country. They remain largely anonymous to most of us, except to the families and friends who loved them. They were relatives, neighbors, spouses, schoolmates, coworkers, best pals. Memorial Day is reserved for them; for those who died serving in uniform during wartime.

How do we remember?

The most visible way is to attend a commemorative ceremony. For a list of Memorial Day services taking place in the Perham area, see page 8A of today’s newspaper. Another option available to everyone is to take a moment of silence. Many people place flags and/or flowers at gravesites, march in parades, wear Buddy Poppies or dedicate memorials.

As the VFW Magazine article states, “Whether done individually or collectively, it is the thought that counts. Personal as well as public acts of remembering are ideal. Public displays of patriotism are essential if the notion of remembering war dead is to be instilled in the young.”

The traditions of Memorial Day will only live on for as long as there is a vibrant movement to carry on the torch.

When do we remember?

Once a year, on the last Monday in May.

Where did Memorial Day come from?

Its origins remain a topic of debate. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y. as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. The roots of this federal holiday, however, run much deeper.

Memorial Day as we know it today can likely be traced to Charleston, S.C., where teachers, missionaries and some members of the press gathered on May 1, 1865 to honor fallen soldiers. During the Civil War, captured Union soldiers were held at the Charleston Race Course and hundreds died during captivity. Upon their deaths, soldiers were buried in unmarked graves. When the Civil War ended, a May Day gathering was organized as a memorial to all the men who had died during captivity.

Gen. John A. Logan is often cited as inspiring similar memorial events in the north. As commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ organization for men who served in the Civil War, Logan issued a proclamation just five days after the Charleston event that called for Decoration Day to be observed annually across the country. He preferred the event not be held on the anniversary of any particular battle, and thus the day was observed for the first time on May 30.

Celebrating the day in May also was significant to event organizers because May is a month when flowers are in bloom, making it easier for observers of the holiday to place flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers.

In 1868, events were held at more than 180 cemeteries in 27 states, and those figures nearly doubled in 1869. By 1890, every northern state officially recognized Decoration Day as a state holiday.

Southern states honored their dead on a different day until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to recognize Americans who died in any war and not just the Civil War.

Memorial Day was first used as the name for the holiday in 1882.