Memorial Day celebrations throughout the region, the state and the country will be different this year. While we all ease out of social-distancing stay-at-home orders, the star-spangled parades, ceremonies and speeches are not happening as they normally would this year.
Yet Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, still should serve as a reminder to all of the honorable sacrifices of those we lost in military service.
Memorial Day started as Decoration Day, first proposed in 1868. The idea of Gen. John Logan, a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic Union Army veterans group, came in the midst of the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction and as the nation’s first presidential impeachment was moving toward a Senate vote. Challenging times indeed.
In his order, Logan called for decorating the graves of those who died “in defense of their country” during the Civil War. While not offering any “prescribed” form of observance or ceremony, the order suggests GAR “posts and comrades ... arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances permit.”
“We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, ‘of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.’ What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe?” the order states.
With World War I, what began as day of remembrance for one war became a commemoration of Americans lost in all conflicts. Congress passed legislation codifying Memorial Day in 1968, with the first official celebration held under that law in 1971.
The Congressional Research Service maintains an annually updated report of “American War and Military Operations Casualties,” from 1775 to present. The numbers are staggering and stark reminders of why Memorial Day is so important.
The lives lost in war and military conflicts are broken down in the report. There are columns denoting battlefield deaths and other deaths, the latter broken down in further detail for later conflicts. There are totals given for non-mortal wounds.
The total number of American servicemen and women killed in war, according to the report dated last September, is more than 1.01 million. And it should be noted, the 364,511 total deaths listed for the Civil War alone count only Union soldiers.
The battlefield is not the only place American servicemen and women fall. We also lose them at home. We lose them to post-traumatic stress disorder. We lose them to old injuries. We lose them because of exposure to dangerous chemicals while serving. We lose them in training accidents.
Whether they made their sacrifice to our country in combat or here at home, we honor them. We honor their willingness to serve, to put all of us before themselves.
This year’s Memorial Day will look different for sure. But the importance of it — of taking time to reflect on those who sacrificed for our country — is not diminished.
In recognition of that, we say thank you to all who have served, those who have passed and those who are still with us on this Memorial Day.