Monday, May 28, 2012
Memorial Day honors their sacrifices
Memorial Day, established in 1868 following the Civil War as a a day of remembrance for those who have died serving our country, is like two holidays in one.
There's the long weekend that unofficially kicks off summer, filled with travel, barbecues, big sales and other fun activities.
And then there's the more serious side of Memorial Day, which takes on new meaning (or should) because today, we observe the dubious distinction of celebrating the 11th consecutive Memorial Day that our all-volunteer military has been in combat. Although we've now been at war for a longer continuous period of time than any other time in our history, the casualties are much smaller. The dynamics and methods of fighting have greatly changed over the years.
The bloodiest war in our history is the one that led to the establishment of Decoration Day, which is the precursor to the federal Memorial Day holiday. The Civil War ravaged a generation of Americans, taking approximately 625,000 lives over the course of four long and tragic years. Next in line is World War II, which in a similar period of time took 405,399 American lives. World War I saw 116,516 American lives lost in a roughly one-year span of involvement by the United States. Those are the only six-digit wartime casualty lists, and we can certainly be grateful for that.
The next-most deadly conflict was the Vietnam War, which claimed 58,209 American lives over a period of years roughly covering 1959-1975. Much like today's U.S. military engagements, there is no clear beginning because war was never officially declared. That technicality, however, is meaningless to anyone who was touched by that conflict or any other, either through direct involvement or loss of a family member or friend.
And that, of course, is the whole point of Memorial Day --remembering those who, whether by choice or accident, gave their lives in military service to the United States of America.
In Washington today, many parades, speeches and solemn wreath-laying ceremonies are planned, most notably the one at Arlington Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Likewise, events are planned in communities across the Delmarva Peninsula in commemoration of these sacrifices -- wreath-laying ceremonies, speeches and more, at the veterans cemeteries on the Shore or at any of the numerous war memorials in the area.
It's no accident that Memorial Day takes place in the spring, when flowers are in full bloom and the weather tends to be warm and sunny.
There are many ways to observe this national holiday. You can attend a local ceremony or church service, visit a cemetery where you can place flags, flowers or wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers.
You can visit a cemetery and just sit quietly for a few moments and contemplate their sacrifice.Wherever you find yourself, you can stop what you are doing and observe a moment of silence in their honor.
The important thing is to remember, reflect and appreciate their sacrifice.