Memorial Day: Honor the Fallen

Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” – Grand Army of the Republic Maj. Gen. John A. Logan

Photo: Grand Army of the Republic Maj. Gen. John A. Logan (Library of Congress courtesy photo/released)

Grand Army of the Republic Maj. Gen. John A. Logan (Library of Congress courtesy photo/released)

These words were part of Maj. Gen. Logan’s orders to his Grand Army of the Republic posts, instructing his fellow veterans to decorate the graves of fallen service members to mark the first official Memorial Day observance on May 30, 1868. The first official ceremony was held that day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., that day drawing a crowd of nearly 5,000 people.

Nearly a century and a half later, Logan’s intentions and words are just as relevant as ever. Our service members are preparing to close the chapter on the longest war our country has seen. Maj. Gen. Logan realized the need for a nation torn by civil war to reunite, mourn and heal in 1868; I think it’s safe to say that, in many ways, our society’s needs aren’t entirely different today.

I think he’d be happy to know the tradition he started has become so deeply woven into American culture. Celebrations have evolved from local observances honoring the Civil War fallen to worldwide celebrations of every size honoring all fallen American service members.

As the Memorial Day tradition continues into the 21st century, the ways to honor our troops continue to grow. Here’s a list of things you can do this year to pay tribute:

  • Join a Celebration – Find an event in your local community or participate in a national observance if you’re in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • Lend a Hand – Find a way to give back to your community and show your patriotic spirit. Volunteer your time, fly the American Flag or give a charitable donation to an organization of your choice.
  • Make Time for a Veteran – A great way to pay tribute to those who have died for our country is to give back to their comrades who are still with us.

Call the veterans in your family, visit a veterans’ care facility in your community, thank your friends and colleagues for their service or pick up the tab for veteran or service member who might be dining in the same restaurant as you. Find a way to let these brave men and women know that their sacrifices are appreciated.

Don’t know any service members or vets? You can visit the Library of Congress’s online Veterans History Project and learn about life in the military from veterans who shared their stories.

  • Take a Moment – In 2000, Congress passed the “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” creating a White House commission dedicated to encouraging Americans to give back to their country and to take a moment of silence every Memorial Day in tribute to all American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Wherever you are at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, pause for one minute of silence to remember and honor our fallen.

No matter where you go or how you choose to observe Memorial Day, keep our service members and veterans in your heart and stay safe.

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Memorial Day: Honor the Fallen