May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Column

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

On May 5, 1966, just a year after the Civil War had ended; our nation was left grieving the loss of more than 700,000 soldiers who died in service to our country. The unimaginable death toll of the Civil War, which as of today remains the deadliest war in American history, prompted residents of Waterloo, New York, to hold a commemoration for the great sacrifice of our nation’s fallen soldiers. Soon after, May 30 was declared as a day in which a national remembrance of these soldiers would take place; with citizens using flowers to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. It is believed that the later date was chosen to ensure that flowers would be in bloom nation-wide. Today, the end of May continues to mark our honoring of the American soldiers who have died fighting for our country in every war in which our nation has participated. We have termed this celebration Memorial Day, but may also still refer to it as Decoration Day, the holiday’s original name. Last Monday, May 26th, was a special time to appreciate our fallen heroes, the reason that we are free today.   

U.S. citizens today feel less of a personal connection to the wars in which we fight, perhaps because the most recent wars in which our country has fought have taken place largely off American soil. As a consequence, traditional observances of Memorial Day have largely diminished. Because of this, a National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in 2008 to help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day. This asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans take a moment to pause what they are doing and informally observe, in their own way, a moment of remembrance and respect for the heroic men and women who died to preserve our freedom.

I believe that on this past Monday, and every day moving forward, we can appreciate that Memorial Day started at the end of the war that tore our nation apart. I think it is important to remember that after being torn apart by conflict, Americans were able to see the bigger picture and come together to honor and give thanks to those who died serving the United States. Since the Civil War, our nation has stood together. We have entered conflicts as a united group of citizens, fighting for freedom and justice for all. Perhaps, for inspiration on uniting our country today, we can look to the Americans who came together after the most divisive time in our history. We are all Americans, and I believe that to honor all of those who have fallen in wars, we must not only be humble and thankful, but we also must remember to improve upon the democracy that they died to protect. We are all beneficiaries and overseers of democracy, and it is therefore our responsibility to promote and participate in that democracy. Ultimately, the continuation of our democratic government is the only way to ensure that those who have fallen will never be forgotten. Remember that the U.S. the land of the free because of the brave, and that “the United States flag does not fly because the wind moves past it. The United States flag flies from the last breath of each military member who has died serving it.”

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