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Reflections From Faith and History

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle -by Jeff Olson

Memorial Day is an opportunity to pause from our busy lives to honor those Americans who have given their lives in service to their (and our) country. Major General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed Decoration Day on May 5, 1868 and it was first observed 151 years ago on May 30, 1868. General James A. Garfield (later the 20th U.S. president) gave a speech then in remembrance of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers, saying that “for love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” Afterwards, about 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Decoration Day had many separate beginnings prior to General Logan’s proclamation. Numerous towns around America had their own observances and some would become official days of remembrance in some states, with New York and Michigan being the first (in the 1870s). Since then, Decoration Day has grown into an institutionalized national tradition to honor all Americans who have died while in military service and it has come to be known as Memorial Day. It eventually became an officially recognized national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May through the National Holiday Act of 1971. Some states still have an additional day set aside for honoring the Confederate war dead.

One aspect of Memorial Day which must not go unmentioned is the fact that many American soldiers have died without their remains being identified. Following World War I, a movement arose to commemorate these soldiers with a single tomb and in 1921 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the president or vice president has laid a wreath at the Tomb each Memorial Day. In totality, there have been over 1.3 million U.S. military deaths in wars and conflicts since 1775, but we should also remember that this does not take into account the related ordeals and sacrifices of their family members.

As we approach and observe Memorial Day 2019, we must be careful not to allow the “holiday” to obscure or overshadow the “Memorial” as we partake in our weekend activities. Memorial Day should be a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom and it should renew our understanding of the necessity for our own commitment to preserving it through active and responsible citizenship. And, we should never forget to remember, pray for, and express our gratitude and respect to the men and women currently serving in our military, including their families.

Freedom is truly every citizen’s call to duty. As one of our former presidents expressed it, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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