Most historians point to a memorial service held in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865, as the beginning of Memorial Day as we know it today. The service followed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by just a few days.
As our nation began to see greater value and more reasons in remembering our soldiers killed in battle, the day became an unofficial observance across our country. For most of its early history, the day was known as Decoration Day, since many services were held in cemeteries while the graves of those killed in war were decorated with flowers. By 1882 the current name of Memorial Day became the more common identity of this unofficial holiday.
The day became an official American holiday in 1967. The next year most federal holidays, including Memorial Day, were moved to Mondays to allow for an extended weekend.
Who Do We Remember?
The purpose of Memorial Day is simple but profound. We are to remember, and to hold in memory, those who gave their lives in battle for our nation. Since our nation’s founding, 1.5 million men and women have died in military action. Their sacrifices are not to be forgotten, because they did not give their lives in vain.
While the explicit purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the fallen soldiers on the battlefield, we should also remember those who were wounded in war and those who are still missing in action. The total number of wounded warriors is now 2.5 million, and another 38,000 soldiers have been classified as missing in action.
A True Memorial Day
There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a long holiday weekend. And no one should be castigated for viewing Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer. But we must ultimately remember the true purpose of Memorial Day. Why then do we remember? Allow me to share five reasons.
- The soldiers we remember gave their lives for their country. They paid the ultimate sacrifice because they believed in the purposes and the ideals of this great nation.
- We would not have the freedoms we have today without the sacrifices of these men and women. Indeed, we may not even exist as a nation had not these wars and battles been fought. We owe so much to these men and women.
- The majority of families have some connection with a fallen or wounded soldier. We should honor those families who gave their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers for the sake of this nation. My uncle, Spurgeon Keller, was one of the early casualties of World War II. My father, Sam Rainer, fought and was wounded in the same war.
- Though Memorial Day is explicitly set aside to remember the fallen soldiers, don’t ever forget the 2.5 million men and women who were wounded in battle.
- When we honor the fallen soldiers of earlier battles, we honor the men and women serving in our armed forces today. They deserve our honor. They deserve our recognition. They deserve our respect.
Remember This Memorial Day
I do hope your long weekend has been rewarding. And I do wish for you a joyous summer. But I also hope you take time this day to remember those who have given their lives for you and me and the rest our nation.
We remember the fallen soldiers. We remember the wounded heroes. And we give thanks and praise for those serving in our military today.
It’s what we should do.
It’s the least we can do.