Monday we celebrate the holiday set aside to honor those who died fighting in America’s wars. It was first established as Decoration Day during and after our Civil War, a conflict that claimed 620,000 lives in the North and South. May 30 was chosen for remembrance because it was a peaceful day – not the anniversary of any battle.
We should recall the impetus for such a day of remembrance. In 1861, at the outbreak of war between North and South, our nation’s population was only 30 million. If we experienced casualties today at the rate we did in our Civil War, there would be 6 million American dead. So you can imagine the crushing weight of grief and the impact on society of such carnage.
Decoration Day became Memorial Day in many places over the decades. After World War II, May 30 became Memorial Day all over the nation. By law it was moved officially in 1967 to the last Monday in May to make a long holiday weekend, and symbolic beginning of summer.
So nations learn how to cope, and how to honor those who sacrificed so greatly. Our Memorial Day growing up was our most solemn and moving celebration, especially with nearly all the men in town having served in World War II. Taps and prayers at the cemetery, decorations on graves of the fallen, comforting of those who felt the sting of loss – these helped us heal and move on without forgetting.
History provides the perspective we need to carry lessons with us, and pass them on to our children. But Memorial Day is not merely a history lesson; it is a life lesson. Wars take a terrible toll. We should honor all of our veterans, who remember those that died as fellow soldiers in the crucible of battle.