“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) issued this order to all the GAR posts. He also instructed members to guard in perpetuity the final resting places of the fallen in order to remind future generations of “The cost of a free and undivided republic.” Generations in communities since them continue to come together to decorate those graves, remember the fallen, and the true price of peaceful liberty.
Many communities across the post Civil War Nation would gather in the spring, clean up after winter, and decorate the grave sights of those who died in the bloodiest conflict in US history. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict fought bravely, like those on both sides in wars before and after our current wars. Each as a father, son, husband, or brother, and sometimes a mother, daughter, wife, or sister. As a result of the timing of these remembrance and spring cleaning activities, it is easy to understand why and how so many people who lack any connection with our Nation’s Armed Forces see this long weekend as nothing more than the unofficial start of summer.
In spite of over 20 years of fighting a war against terrorists around the world, few Americans know a member of the military and even fewer know someone who died in any of our Nation’s wars. In 2018, Forbes quoted a Rand Corporation report that 2.77 million people fought the war on terror. That is less than 0.8% of our Nation’s total population. Given that in 20 years of fighting, our Nation lost 6,840 service members, it is very unlikely most Americans even know a family who had a loved one die. Even now, the United States still has a small contingent of military personnel deployed in hazardous duty zones.
The small size of those who served and died in uniform shows the impact any individual has in a given situation. This small set of Americans died defending freedom. As a result, we have an absolute obligation to remember them as a group, and as individuals, as we enjoy the liberty they guaranteed.
You may notice that community remembrances are led by current military members, veterans, and family members. They know that if they fail to lead these events, those who never knew liberty’s defenders will forget them. Just because you do not personally know a person who died serving in uniform does not mean you should let the burden of remembering fall only upon those who have a personal connection with those individuals. Everyone has a personal connection by virtue of their freedom. Step up, volunteer to read a poem or lay a wreath. Take time this Memorial Day, and every day, to remember those who laid down their lives so you could live free.
McCarthy, N. (2018).2.77 million service members have served on 5.4 million deployments since 9/11 [infographic]. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/03/20/2-77-million-service-members-have-served-on-5-4-million-deployments-since-911-infographic/?sh=4fee37c450db on 5/23/22
Stilwell, J. (2022). Memorial Day by the numbers: Casualties of every American war. Military.Com. Retrieved from:https://www.military.com/memorial-day/how-many-us-militay-members-died-each-american-war.html on 5/22/22
Unknown. (2022). Memorial Day history. Memorial Day Website. Retrieved from: https://www.usmemorialday.org/history-of-memorial-day on 5/23/22.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Celebrating America’s freedoms; The origins of Memorial Day. Department of Veterans Affairs. Washington, DC. Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/memday.pdf on 5/23/22.
(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr