“Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor ....”
— General John Logan, General Order No. 11, May 5, 1868
With these words, the official beginning of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was established — a day for Americans to honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms we cherish.
Sadly, Memorial Day has lost its historic meaning for many Americans. To many, it is a day that starts the vacation season, a day the pools and amusement parks officially open, a day of great shopping discounts and barbecues. Military service is an abstract concept because these people do not have any relatives or neighbors who serve now or who have ever served in the military.
But to others, this is a day to remember loved ones, ancestors, comrades in arms, neighbors and strangers who have fallen. A day to honor the ideals and values they stood for and died defending.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so we could live free. We can start to pay that debt by not forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for.
I encourage you to visit veterans and traditional cemeteries to place flags or flowers on the graves of fallen service members; attend a Memorial Day service; visit a veterans memorial in your area; fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day; or participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.
It is the least we can do for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Larry D. Kay is the executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission.