You see it all the time... well-meaning folks with outstretched hands thanking people in uniform for their service. It happens on Main Street USA, at the local grocery store, or in your hometown. At no time do you see more of this kind gesture of gratitude than on holidays which honor military service members such as Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, and in this case, Memorial Day.
While most personnel in uniform appreciate the kindness and recognition, most of them are humble enough to prefer to simply go about their business. When queried, many will say "I'm just doing my job." Even those who have been involved in heroic acts tend to say the same thing. But if you watch them carefully, after the handshake, you'll see a little added 'pep' in their walk, and a smile on their face. This is especially true if the person thanking them is a retired veteran themselves.
This alone is worth all the effort. But it begs a deeper question; what exactly is Memorial Day all about?
A colleague who is in the military recently posted a Memorial Day photo to her Facebook page. Depicted is a number of uniformed U.S. Army Soldiers, kneeling down, with their helmets removed, obviously honoring one of their fallen comrades. In the background of the photo is a large American Flag, obviously "Photoshopped" into the image. But it's the words that adorn this photo which inspired me to write this post. They say:
"Memorial Day is for the Fallen. Please don't thank me this weekend."
Truly, Memorial Day is for those military members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and laid down their lives for their fellow Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Coast Guardsman. Framed in this light, the aforementioned Facebook post should take on a new significance. Yes, those service members and veterans still here with us deserve society's gratitude. Yes, their contributions do matter. Yes, it is because of their choice to give up birthdays and holidays in order to keep watch over our interests that most Americans can live a free, content existence.
But Memorial Day is really about the fallen, and we as a nation, cannot forget that fact. THAT is the point of my colleague's Facebook photo, and the inspiration behind this blog post.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States. Over two dozen towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, but Waterloo, New York was officially declared the birthplace of the holiday by President Lyndon Johnson in May, 1966.
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear--Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor the country's dead. It was originally proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by Gen. John Logan, a national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in his General Order No. 11.
"The 30th of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land," Logan proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he referred to it, was chosen specifically because it wasn't the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.
So on Monday, May 25, 2015, as we as a nation fire up our barbecue grills, or take the boat to the lake, or pack up the family for the long holiday weekend of fun, keep in mind not just the sacrifice of those you see out and about who wear our nation's uniform, but for those you don't see.
Yes, go ahead and thank them. By all means, shake their hand. But tell them that you appreciate not only their sacrifice, but that of those in uniform who no longer walk this Earth. Those comrades-in-arms are gone, but will never be forgotten. Those service members who volunteered their service to this great nation, and gave their lives so that we could all live in the land of the free.
To see a really good historical overview of Memorial Day by the History Channel, go here.
--Nick Choy, Oregon Military Department Social Media Manager