This weekend will be a fun and busy one for many of us as we kick off the summer with the three-day Memorial Day weekend. But let us remember to pause and think about the meaning of the upcoming Memorial Day, and reflect on and honor the memory of our loved ones, ancestors and relatives, friends and neighbors who gave their lives for our country.
It is with the deepest gratitude that we all share for the ultimate sacrifice of our fallen heroes. Our nation wouldn’t be the great country it is today, a shining light of democracy, a beacon of hope for refugees and asylum seekers, were it not for the sacrifices of our heroic predecessors, including our allies, especially in the two World Wars. My English mother’s father is buried in Le Havre, France. He was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and died in battle in 1940. My other grandfather was an immigrant to America from Bohemia who organized fellow Czech and Slovak immigrants to become Legionnaires to join the French Army to fight against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an ally of Germany, in what was then the “Great War,” which was renamed World War I after World War II. Most Americans can point to similar stories of sacrifice to our great nation.
This holiday has deep roots here in Virginia. According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Warrenton, Va. was the location of the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever to be decorated on June 3, 1861. In addition to decorating graves, there were earlier celebrations in the South that were solemn occasions which included families and veterans honoring the dead and tending to local cemeteries.
Memorial Day was established by General John Logan and occurred on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. While this day began as one to honor the almost half a million soldiers who died during the Civil War, by the turn of the 20th century, the holiday was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the U.S. military service. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971.
Every year, a wreath is laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and small American flags are placed at each of the over 260,000 gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery. Thank you to the many volunteers, especially the Scouts and soldiers, who have taken part in this solemn recognition.
So, enjoy a wonderful and safe long weekend. But, as we celebrate the start of the summer season, take a moment to remember those many courageous souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.