Brief History of Memorial Day
On April 19th, 1775 as dawn broke over colonial New England, militia of the Massachusetts Bay Colony faced off with British forces who were seeking to destroy weapons stockpiled by colonists. That day in Lexington MA through the early morning mist the report of the shot heard round the world rang out announcing that the 13 colonies would no longer stand for British rule. The battle raged on into Concord MA where the British were able to destroy several guns and artillery pieces but were stopped at the North Bridge and forced to retreat to the safety of Charlestown in Boston.
This is a true story about hopelessly outnumbered and ill equipped militia facing down the most powerful army in the world. Closing your eyes your imagination can conjure images of troops marching to the sound of fife and drum with a colonial flag waving brazenly against a blue sky and your heart easily fills with patriotic pride but that is not all that we should remember.
This day also saw something else, the first combat deaths of American’s defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There were 49 dead, 39 wounded and 5 missing that day, the first but not the last time ground was gained at the cost of blood and lives. They were the first in a long line of brave men and women who when called answered the bell and gave their last full measure of devotion to the protection of freedom.
The Revolution sadly is not the only war we have seen. Not the only war that has taken our loved ones. The war of 1812, the Civil War, World War I & II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts such as the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few where American soldiers have been lost. It is just a hair over 243 years since the first souls fell on the field of battle and we stand at close to 1.5 million lost in combat since that time.
The concept of Memorial Day took form shortly after the Civil War. The horrible cost of 620,000 American lives weighed heavily on the hearts of many Americans and a solemn holiday was planned however many southern states had their own dates that they observed a “Memorial Day” on so a national holiday would not be born until World War I when all states agreed to a single date. Today Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. It provides modern America with a 3 day weekend and has come to represent the beginning of summer marked by barbeques, family outings and celebration.
This is all nice but I for one hope that people rise to remember the sacrifice so many have given to preserve our way of life. They have given their lives to protect ours. Yours, mine, every American’s. Freedom certainly is not free and we don’t have to agree with the politics of war but all should remember the cost our soldiers are asked to pay when fighting them.
I recently went on a trip to Washington D.C. and in my travels went to Arlington National Cemetery and visited many graves of those lost over the years and was filled with awe as I gazed at row upon row of graves. Hallowed ground, a place to remember and give thanks for the freedoms that I and we all enjoy today, none of which is possible with out the sacrifice the men and women of our armed forces have so freely given.
VFW “Buddy” Poppies
At ARS we have the strongest commitment to our veterans employing several and have had others that were still active, leaving for training and returning to us. Today our own Silvana Waghelstein led us in a heartfelt Memorial Day ceremony. We proudly participated in the remembrance of our lost through the VFW “Buddy” poppies and spoke the names of New England born soldiers lost in battle and remember them with reverence, grieve for their loss and flush with pride for the service they rendered. Silvana and the poppies helped us remember the importance of this day, she reminded us of how this day differs from Veterans Day and suggested asking a Veteran about a friend or family member that lost their life rather than thanking a Veteran like so many mistakenly do.
In closing I will leave you with some words spoken by Abraham Lincoln after the battle of Gettysburg…..
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Enjoy Memorial Day weekend and take some time to give thanks for the lives we enjoy that in no small part has been delivered and defended at the cost of so many lives of American soldiers.