On the last Monday in May, Americans honor those who have fallen in defense of the country and of its ideals. It is a solemn day, this Observance on which we gather to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and to pay them homage.
The occasion, originally called Decoration Day, began in Illinois in May 1868, when General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, a local organization of civil war veterans, proclaimed the Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. The purpose of the remembrance, he said, was to cherish “tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes.” The practice spread throughout the country, and in 1966, the name was changed to Memorial Day and at the same time, it became a federal holiday.
And so on every Memorial Day, small flags and bouquets of colorful flowers spring up on headstones and memorial plaques in cemeteries all over the country, decorating the graves of military heroes. Every one of these decorations represents a member of the military who died protecting his or her country and what it stands for. They died defending a way of life, and values they believed in, and the honor they earned by their sacrifice abides with them forever.
It is often said that as long as we are remembered, we remain alive. Thus, on Memorial Day, we recognize the valiant efforts of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who put the country and what it stands for, before themselves.
They remain with us in spirit, and every Memorial Day, we honor and dignify their offering. On every Memorial Day, a grateful nation remembers its heroes, and recognizes that lives and blood lost in defense of its freedoms are never given in vain.