Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2016.
Yep, Memorial Day is almost here: the semi-official start of summer with a three-day weekend thrown in. So much to do. In fact, if you go to Google and type in “Memorial Day what to do,” you’ll get all kinds of activities in your area: food and film fests, music concerts, baseball games.
And you might, just might, learn how you can honor America’s war dead. I say might, because Memorial Day has morphed—for the most part—from a day of remembrance to, as one city magazine put it, a “beloved three-day weekend [to] get a taste of all of the exciting outdoor events as . . . summer officially kicks into gear.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing with friends and families and celebrating the arrival of summer. But I want to challenge you and your family to find ways to pay homage to those who have given their lives for the sake of our country and our freedoms. And I have some suggestions for you.
But first, a little context. Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.3 million Americans have died during our nation’s armed conflicts. More than half of those were casualties on both sides of the Civil War. If you can imagine, more than two percent of the American population perished during that savage conflict—that would be like 7.7 million Americans dying today.
It was after that great conflagration that Americans, primarily in the northern states, chose a day to honor the war dead: May 30th, 1868, was the first Decoration Day, as it was called because citizens were asked to decorate the graves of the fallen. After World War I, the day became a time for remembering all war dead, not just those of the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1968 that Congress moved the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May. And in 1971, Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday.
So, what can we do to remember and show our gratitude?
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