Remembering the ‘heroes’ this holiday

FILE - The sun shines through the flags in the Memorial Day Flag Garden on Boston Common, May 27, 2023, in Boston. Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members. But it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and retail discounts. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, file)

On the last Monday of May, Americans are encouraged to make their way to the many cemeteries in the country and recognize the dead by adorning their graves with flowers or other sentimental markers. The day was chosen in 1971 by the United States congress as a day of mourning for servicemen who died while serving in the armed forces.

The original proclamation in 1868 was made by General John Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was to be on May 30 of each year, across the nation.

It would be known as “Decoration Day” and was meant to honor the union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After years passed, and with its adoption by southern states as well, confederate soldiers became recognized also.

Some dispute was had as to the actual first location that honored the day as an official holiday. In 1966, by order of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and then acknowledged by congress, Waterloo, N.Y., a sleepy little community in the Finger Lakes region was chosen as the “Birthplace” of the holiday. In 1971 The U.S. Congress again addressed the holiday changing the name to “Memorial Day” and assigning the last Monday in May as the official remembrance. The holiday now was meant to honor all soldiers from all wars who died fighting for their country.

As more time passed and the holiday remained at the end of May, veterans’ groups took it as their responsibility to place flags upon the graves of these men of valor. This became an increasingly difficult task as more and more of our veterans of the armed forces were interred. The list now included women and other vets who died and were buried with military honors, and their graves marked with special plaques.

The veterans’ organizations like the American Legion chose to plant an American Flag on every past serviceman’s grave. This ritual is still accomplished to this day.

Across our land this holiday has also been considered the unofficial start of summer and the beginning of outdoor activity. Grand parades are held along with cookouts and parties. It seems the perfect weekend with usually fair weather for such a month.

But let’s not forget the true meaning of this holiday. As you are at the cemetery, notice the flags. See the heroes who lie beneath the soil. There are “Medal of Honor” recipients under stone here in our county. There are soldiers from as far back as the revolutionary war right up to our last conflict.

Many died while serving, and many suffered from a life they lived after the horrors of war.

Still others merely served their country and returned as the veterans who recognize the souls of their departed comrades, in the years prior to their own death. We all hope you use your freedom to enjoy the beginning of summertime, and we also wish that for a moment you think of the ones now gone who fought for that freedom.

Kirk L. Miller is commander for the Chautauqua County American Legion, 8th District Department of New York.


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