Serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1998 to 2002, my goal was to serve our country, make a difference, and be a part of the most elite military branch in the world. Once a Marine, always a Marine! Today, and everyday, I take the time to honor and remember the sacrifices of service members, both past and present.
Our country has a robust military history, and we have lost many fearless soldiers in wars and battles to protect our nation and freedom. Many Americans view Memorial Day as just a long weekend to fire up the grill, open the pool, and usher in the start of summer. However, Memorial Day is more than BBQs and pool openings; it is a time of remembrance and reflection for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Originally referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first established by General John A. Logan in May of 1868. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, over 620,000 lives had been lost, more than any other conflict in U.S. history. The loss of life and its effect on communities throughout the country led to spontaneous commemorations of the dead. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. Originally observed only for lives lost in the Civil War, it was not until after World War I that it was expanded to commemorate those who died in all American conflicts. It wasn’t until over 100 years later in 1971 when Congress declared Memorial Day as a federal holiday.
3 Ways to Honor the Fallen
President Lyndon Johnson declared in 1966 that the earliest organized celebration of Memorial Day was celebrated in Waterloo, New York. On May 5, 1866, Waterloo hosted a community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. This was the first formal observance. Today there are numerous ways to commemorate the lives given in service to our country:
Enjoy a Parade
Gathering together as a community to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and fully encompasses the spirit of Memorial Day. The National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. is by far the largest in the country. It takes place annually on Memorial Day and exists to salute our fallen heroes from the American Revolution through Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, in New York City multiple parades are held featuring dazzling floats, patriotic marching bands, and a family-friendly atmosphere.
Visit a Memorial
War memorials are sacred places that serve as the ultimate commemorative locations for the courageous men and women who have given their lives for our country. Memorials feature chronologically inscribed lists of the names of more than 58,000 American soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. is an unforgettable location to visit on Memorial Day. Another outstanding option is the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford Virginia, which offers visitors a variety of ways to honor the soldiers who fell on Omaha Beach in 1944.
Lend a Helping Hand
At its core Memorial Day honors our fallen service members, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t show our appreciation and support to our veterans and the men and women who are currently serving in the armed forces. One way is to volunteer and reach out to a local veteran’s hospital or VFW post. There are also a number of exceptional organizations that aid veteran’s such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the Disabled American Veterans Foundation. Beyond donating or volunteering at organizations, even a simple card, flowers, or a hot meal can lift the spirits of an aging veteran immeasurably.
Moment of Remembrance
In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. in an act of national unity. The time was chosen since 3 p.m. was the most likely time that most Americans would be enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday. I encourage you to set a reminder and take a brief moment to stop and reflect upon the sacrifices made on our behalf.
This year on May 31, as you celebrate the unofficial start of summer, be sure to truly remember the reason for this day. Over the course of history, more than 1.1 million Americans have lost their lives in all U.S. wars. This ultimate sacrifice that was made by these brave men and women affords you the opportunity to enjoy freedoms that should not be taken for granted.