Memorial Day….a time to remember our military dead

Published 10:30 am Friday, May 24, 2024

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Communities throughout the nation will celebrate Memorial Day Monday with patriotic events and ceremonies. But, what is Memorial Day and what sets it apart from other military related holidays?

Memorial Day traces its roots to Decoration Day, an annual tradition in which communities placed flowers, wreaths and other tributes on the graves of soldiers killed in the Civil War. The observance spread throughout the country, and on May 30, 1868, the first national Decoration Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a history of Memorial Day published by the National Cemetery Administration.

New York became the first state to adopt Decoration Day as an official holiday in 1873, and several other states soon followed.

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Americans continued to mark Decoration Day until the end of World War I, when the holiday needed to expand to include those killed in the European theater as well as the Civil War. Decoration Day became Memorial Day and the observance widened to include service members who died in all American wars.

Memorial Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1971, with the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and is celebrated annually on the last Monday in May.

Unlike Veterans Day, which is celebrated in November, Memorial Day is specifically set aside to remember military service members who died while serving their country, especially those who were killed in action or died due to combat-related injuries. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is intended to recognize and thank all those serving or having served in the U.S. armed forces, according to Veterans Affairs.

During World War II Tennessee and its citizens contributed generously to the war effort. Many put their lives on the line as soldiers, sailors, and airmen: 315,501 Tennesseans served in the various theaters of the war, and 5,731 lost their lives. A total of 908 Tennesseans were killed in the Korean War, with a total of 1,295 Tennessee casualties in Vietnam. Tennessee also had casualties in Desert Storm and Afghanistan.

In December 2000, Congress passed The National Moment Remembrance Act which encourages all Americans to observe a two-minute moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember all those killed serving their nation.

Nationally, data from the VA show more than 650,000 military service members have died from combat related causes since the Revolutionary War.

The motivations for wars and achievements of different conflicts will forever be litigated in partisan politics and the court of public opinion. Memorial Day, however, is not about the how, the where or the why. It’s about who. Memorial Day is about American men and women who made an oath to defend their country and stayed true to their word to their dying breath.

Whether you attend a Memorial Day event Monday or put out a flag and call it good, take a minute to reflect on the freedoms we have as Americans and the people who paid the heavy price for us to have them.

Many will go to the cemetery to place flowers in memory of their loved one, who gave their all defending our country.