Today’s the third day of a three-day weekend. A little extra time to relax, enjoy a barbecue, maybe do some yard work or toss a Frisbee with the kids.
But as we mark the unofficial opening of summer, we shouldn’t forget the real reason for this holiday, the reason so many extra American flags are flying today.
It’s a day to remember the more than 1.3 million lives lost in our nation’s wars. It’s Memorial Day.
The holiday has evolved over the decades. Even its name has changed.
The observance began after the Civil War to honor Union soldiers killed in that conflict. Although far from the battlefields of the East and South, the Nebraska Territory contributed mightily to those battles. More than 3,000 of the 9,000 Nebraska men of military age served as soldiers. In Iowa, about 75,000 men, more than half of those eligible, went off to the war.
The original May 30 holiday was known as Decoration Day, named for the idea of leaving flowers on the graves of Civil War casualties. It is believed the date was chosen because that’s when flowers would be in bloom across the country.
After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars.
That is a solemn toll.
The roll call begins with an estimated 25,000 deaths during the American Revolution. It continues through the 2,260 in the War of 1812; 620,000 on both sides of the Civil War; 116,516 in World War I; 405,399 in World War II; 36,574 in Korea; 58,220 in Vietnam; 383 in the Persian Gulf War; the 4,488 in Iraq and the more than 2,100 in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
There are smaller numbers, too, from lesser-known conflicts.
But not one should be a mere statistic. Every death represents an American who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and fellow citizens.
Across the Midlands, events this weekend have honored those sacrifices. Observances at American Legion posts, cemeteries and parks have included speeches, the laying of wreaths and the playing of taps.
Those who can’t find time to attend an event or a ceremony can still take part in the true meaning of the day.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, a law designed to give renewed emphasis to Memorial Day. The law designates the minute beginning at 3 p.m. local time as the moment for Americans to pause and remember.
In passing the law, Congress declared: “It is essential to remember and renew the legacy of Memorial Day, which was established in 1868 to pay tribute to individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States and their families.”
President Bill Clinton signed the legislation, saying: “While these heroes should be honored every day for their profound contribution to securing our nation’s freedom, they and their families should be especially honored on Memorial Day.”
Today’s the day. Remember.