Memorial Day: Those who gave ultimate sacrifice deserve recognition
By Gene Kemmeter
Memorial Day will be observed May 27. The day, a national holiday since 1967, is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces, from the American Revolution to today’s conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Observances for soldiers killed in war started during the Civil War, when more than 600,000 American soldiers fighting for the North and South died. It was a time when the nation began devoting entire cemeteries to soldiers killed in individual battles. Burying the dead near where they fell was easier than transporting their bodies back to their hometowns.
Gen. John A. Logan, a leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, called for a national day of remembrance on May 5, 1868, designating the first observance for decoration of graves of comrades who died in defense of their country. He said the date should be called Decoration Day and designated May 30, 1868, for the observance, the last Monday of May when flowers should be in bloom in the north.
Some locations held memorial events prior to Logan’s request, and those Northern states quickly adopted the holiday for their war dead. Southern states adopted their own dates for the observance, ranging from April 25 to mid-June. Memorial Day was first used in 1882, and that name became increasingly popular after World War II until it was declared the official name in 1967.
The United States is unique in its observance of a Memorial Day dedicated to the deaths of military men and women in service to their country. Canada and England celebrate Armistice Day to end World War I in November; while Turkey Australia and New Zealand observe days for WWI battles; France celebrates the WWII victory May 8; and South Korea observes June 6 as the start of the Korean War. Few others pay tribute to their soldiers.
The Memorial Day observances took on special meaning after World War II because so many people were affected by the fatalities of the war as so many young Americans volunteered or were drafted into service, with many of them never returning. Veterans groups took over the observances, paying tribute to their comrades they remembered so vividly.
The sacrifices of those who gave their lives or their limbs was fixed in memories. The deaths of the five sons of Thomas and Alletta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, when their U.S. Navy ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942 touched many citizens and left a vivid reminder of the sacrifices necessary in war.
The Civil War took the lives of more than 214,000 from combat and 450,000 from other factors, while leaving another 400,000 wounded. World War II recorded 291,000 combat deaths and 113,000 dead from other factors, leaving 670,000 wounded and 30,000 missing.
Few families escaped the wars without impacts.
Many suffered the trauma of loved ones losing their lives. Memorial Day is the time to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, be it a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, an uncle, an aunt, a grandparent, a great-grandparent. That life helped make America strong. They deserve the recognition at least one day per year.