For some Memorial Day means cook outs, family gatherings and thanking those in uniform for their service. But it is so much more.
It is about the rows of headstones in cemeteries across the country emblazoned with the name of a service member who gave their lives during America’s wars. Memorial Day, originally founded to remember those in Union blue uniforms who lost their lives keeping the nation whole, honors those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend the United States.
On May 29, the Columbia, South Carolina, community gathered at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery to remember the fallen during what Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson commander, called, “a national recognition day set aside to honor men and women who gave their lives in defense of our great nation and its values.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III said in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, “It is our duty to remember those we have lost. It is our honor to stand with their families. And it is our sacred obligation to remember all that you have given.”
According to the Veterans Administration, Memorial Day was declared on May 5, 1868, by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, head of a group of Union Civil War veterans. An act of Congress in 1971, made the holiday’s name and date official. Some believe the date, for the holiday originally called Decoration Day, was chosen due to the flowers in bloom during that time. The idea was to decorate the graves of those Union soldiers killed during the Civil War with flowers.
“As the spring and summer months are in full bloom, we see the flowers of peace and democracy blooming across our land,” Kelly said during the ceremony. “However, we can never forget … or minimize the sacrifice of the few for the benefit of the many. In a literal sense, flowers of the season are breaking through the soil seeking sunlight. They are the continuous reminder to honor the warriors sleeping beneath.”
Kelly said the defense of the nation has a human cost.
The admitted numbers guy said “numbers seem to define Memorial Day – 416,000 Americans were killed during World War 2; 58,000 in Vietnam; 36,000 in Korea; 4,500 in Iraq; and 2,400 in Afghanistan. While these numbers are significant, they have their limits in that they obscure the human dimension of war. They shield us from the feeling of loss …”
He said we must also remember those they left behind.
“In periods of war, every military family lives in perpetual fear of the knock on the door that is accompanied by a chaplain and other service members,” Kelly said.
Kelly would lay a wreath at the ceremony with Post Command Sgt. Maj. Erick Ochs. Sgt. Matthew Cruice trumpeter with the 282nd Army Band blew Taps during the ceremony, while the Fort Jackson rifle salute team fired a volley in honor of the fallen.
Following the ceremony American flags were placed at each headstone in the cemetery.