As I write this commentary I am reminded that we are getting ready to honor those who fight for our freedom - Memorial Day! This is a day of celebration for many, there will be parades, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and many will be dressed in red, white and blue.
But how many of us will actually stop long enough to say a silent prayer for those now gone from us as well as those who are still fighting in foreign countries in the name of freedom and love of our country? Yes, Memorial Day is just around the corner.
According to history, General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic officially proclaimed that there should be a day for remembering those who had fought for freedom; it was originally called "Decoration Day." This first day of remembrance was observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. This may have been what inspired poet Moina Michael to write her poem and wear a red poppy.
She didn't just wear the poppy, however, she also sold them to friends and family with the money going to benefit servicemen. In her poem, "In Flanders Fields" Michael wrote:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
Like many things, however, politics interfered. The date on which we celebrate the Day of Remembrance or Decoration Day was changed. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for Federal employees.
Regardless of the day, or how, we remember, we have suffered tremendous loss. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there have been 651,031 battle deaths during the entire history of war in the United States. And in our most costly and current foreign engagement (Afghanistan) there have been 1,834 Americans killed and nearly 16,000 U.S. troops have been wounded.
Many times we overlook the need to stop and thank a soldier, or to spend a minute remembering their sacrifices for our country. Very few of us actually wear a red poppy, and too often we just think of the three-day weekend. In December 2000, a resolution, "National Moment of Remembrance", was passed to help remind us of what the day was all about. The resolution asked that on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time, we take a moment, stop what we are doing, and voluntarily observe a moment of silence for our fallen heroes. Somehow I feel as if I should be doing more.
I am ever reminded that we need our military men and women if the United States is to remain a free nation of a people who have been placed into a melting pot of customs, differing religious beliefs, and political preferences. We are who we are because of the men and women who have fought in faraway lands and have given of themselves for each and every one of us.
So, as we decorate the graves of our fallen heroes here at home, let's do so with gratitude. But, let us not forget the 124,909 U.S. soldiers who were killed during war times and are now interred on foreign soil.
Memorial Day will be celebrated by many in their own special way this year on Monday, May 28; hopefully you will take a moment at 3 p.m. for just a little extra remembrance of those who have fought for our freedom. And, to those veterans who are still with us, you are not forgotten - I continue to be grateful for your service to our country whether during wartime, or not. Thank you.
Have a great day!
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org