Monday, May 27, 2013 | 2:01 a.m.
The editorial first ran on Memorial Day 2010.
Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have died in battle for our country, but its purpose is too often forgotten. It is instead better recognized as a three-day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer. The day, however, was meant to mark a solemn occasion. It dates to 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, when Army commander Maj. Gen. John A. Logan ordered soldiers to clean and decorate the graves of their fallen comrades. Logan wrote that the nation should show its gratitude for those who “made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes.”
Indeed. Decoration Day, as it was then known, became a tradition. After World War I, it was expanded to include dead from all of the country’s wars.
In 1950, Congress passed a resolution that President Harry S. Truman signed, calling on Americans to remember the fallen and to pray for “permanent peace.” Truman noted that peace was the hope of people after World War II, but instead the world remained in “a state of continued unrest.” “Since war is the world’s most terrible scourge, we should do all in our power to prevent its recurrence,” Truman wrote.
In the following years, Congress made the last Monday in May a government holiday and has called on the public to spend a minute at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day remembering those who sacrificed. It is the least we can do as Americans.
Since the country’s founding, more than 1 million Americans have been killed in the defense of the United States. Today, the country is engaged in two wars, and more than 5,000 Americans have died serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and nearly 37,500 have been injured.
It is important to remember that the soldiers fighting today are volunteers. With an all-volunteer force, people too often forget that there are members of the military putting their lives in danger every day. They shouldn’t be forgotten.
As we consider the lives that have been given for our country, we will recall Logan’s words from 1868. He wrote that the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers should be remembered as “the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
We will also remember what President John F. Kennedy wrote in a 1961 proclamation: “Memorial Day each year provides a fitting occasion upon which our people may not only commemorate the nation’s heroic dead but also unite in prayer for the preservation of liberty and peace free from the threat of war.”