This week has seen a fair number of articles regarding Memorial Day and they have caused me to stop and ponder what Memorial Day really means. Like so many of America’s “Holidays,” most people don’t really know the history and meaning behind the observance. While a number of places claim to be “the home” of Memorial Day, the basic story behind the observance goes like this:
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30.
It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh.
Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well. By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.
As I reflected on my own life in the Army, I tried to recall the names of all the servicemen and women I knew personally who had died in the line of duty. The result was sobering and emotional. Even more sobering was the thought that there were another 1.3 Million (plus) in the history of the United States whom I didn’t know personally. Memorial Day is a tribute to each and every one of these men and women who fought and died for our country. These Servicemen and Women placed honor, freedom, and love of country above their own personal desires and comforts. They served selflessly regarding their country, and their countrymen, as more important than their own lives.
In John 15, Jesus is addressing His disciples and says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Not all of us are asked to make the sacrifice of physically laying down our lives for our friends, but we are all commanded to love each other to the extent that we would. One of the greatest acts of love we can show others is to save their lives by sharing with them The Way, The Truth, and The Life which is found ONLY in the work and Person of Jesus Christ.
This Memorial Day, let us honor our fallen in a special way – by doing what they did: selflessly giving their all to help save others. Our actions can save countless lives for eternity. Go out and show how much you love your neighbor.