It is a safe bet that most of us today would rather fire up the grill, lounge on the beach or enjoy a baseball game than dwell on the somber origins of Memorial Day.
But a few moments of quiet reflection shouldn’t be a burden, particularly given the sacrifices this day is meant to honor.
The first major Memorial Day celebration was held in 1868 in Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate those killed in the Civil War. The event evolved into an annual day for honoring all American war dead.
More than 1.2 million Americans have been killed during wars. Some died in controversial conflicts with uncertain outcomes, but all died in the service of their country. For those in combat, there is no “Good War.”
All military personnel who risk their lives on behalf of their nation deserve equal esteem, regardless of whether they fought on Omaha Beach or in Grenada.
At this moment, American soldiers are fighting for their country.
Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the leader of a veterans group that spearheaded the original Memorial Day, urged people to decorate graves “with the choicest flowers of springtime.”
The tradition endures, as at least some grateful Americans will take the time today to visit the graves of fallen heroes.
But this Memorial Day is a good time to remember we also can honor the dead by honoring the living — those who survived war but carry in their hearts memories of their fallen compatriots.
The Bayshore Patriots provide an example, as members wave flags on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa each Friday to honor those who serve and protect our nation.
We witnessed another memorable celebration in Washington, D.C., where the nonprofit Honor Flight Network pays for veterans to visit their military memorials. Its focus has been on World War II veterans, who are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day.
On this occasion, a flight had been arranged for veterans from North Carolina. The airport announced the arrival of a plane carrying “American heroes,” and a crowd gathered at the gate.
The West Point Alumni Glee Club sang as the veterans, many using wheelchairs or canes, shuffled off the plane to a huge ovation. Many had tears in their eyes from this unexpected show of appreciation.
On Memorial Day we should remember those who made the supreme sacrifice. But it is also a good time to thank all who fought to protect our way of life and deserve our enduring gratitude.