MEMORIAL DAY: A MOMENT TO PRAISE, THINK AND REMEMBER
On Monday, May 28, we celebrate Memorial Day.
This is a day when we honor our military and our fallen heroes—brave men and women who fought and died so all of us can enjoy the freedom we too often take for granted.
The world has changed dramatically in recent years, but Americans in uniform are still on duty doing all they can to preserve peace, balance and fairness in the world.
Of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty, more than 450,000 are stationed overseas, including many in perilous places where we do what no other country does: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Niger and more.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, a day that was set aside to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Our nation has paid a steep price for the freedoms we enjoy.
Roughly 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, making it the deadliest war in American history. Casualties of U.S.-involved conflicts include:
- World War I: 116,516 American lives lost
- World War II: 405,399
- Korean War: 36,574
- Vietnam: 58,220
- Operation Desert Shield/Storm: 383
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,411
- Operation New Dawn: 73
- Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,346
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel: 48, as of May 2018
- Operation Inherent Resolve: 61, as of May 2018
The names of some of those operations may be unfamiliar to you, but the meaning of the casualty figures becomes clear when you know:
- Operation Enduring Freedom is the official U.S. government name for the Global War on Terrorism.
- Operation New Dawn applies to the fighting in Iraq 2010-11.
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel applies to military operations in Afghanistan 2001-present.
- Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S. military’s operational name for the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The federal government has also used this holiday to honor non-veterans—the Lincoln Memorial, for example, was dedicated on Memorial Day 1922.
On December 28, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, designating 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as a National Moment of Remembrance.
More than 20 towns claim to be the holiday’s “birthplace”—but only one has federal recognition. In 1966, 100 years after the town of Waterloo, New York, held the first of many celebrations, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation recently passed by Congress declaring Waterloo the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day.
Red poppies are often worn on Memorial Day. They are known as a symbol of remembrance, and it’s a tradition to wear them to honor those who died in war.
Since the late 1950’s on the Thursday just before Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. A 24-hour patrol is conducted every day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day.
The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff.
Permit us to wish you a great weekend. As we spend time with family and friends enjoying the great outdoors and warm weather, let us never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much so we could enjoy this holiday, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.
On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind.
As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home,
We leave no veteran behind.
– Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois