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May 31, 2010
We recall these words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
"Your silent tents of green . We deck with fragrant flowers; Yours has the suffering been, The memory shall be ours."
Originally known as Decoration Day, today’s holiday began in 1868.
General John A. Logan helped organize the day as a way to honor those soldiers that died in the Civil War.
After World War I, the separate Union and Confederate Decoration Days combined as Memorial Day and recognized those who have died in military service during any war in our history.
Memorial Day became widespread by 1902, but it wasn’t until 1971 when this day became a federal holiday.
During the years, traditional observances of Memorial Day have diminished.
There are a few notable exceptions where the memory is kept alive.
Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.
They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Memorial Day weekend is a time for brushing off the BBQ, spending time with friends and family and catching the Indianapolis 500.
Good American traditions too.
Today is also a secular reminder that those that came before us still matter. As writer G.K. Chesterton puts it:
"Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead."
It's a day to remember, in our own way, that the United States Military protects the freedoms we have every day. And that there are soldiers right now in harm's way, in places far from home, who matter very much too.
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What's the best way to observe Memorial Day?