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Men and women have fought for the last 244 years to preserve the idea the Founding Father’s envisioned for America. The idea that all men were created equal — European, Native, and African American is one of the foundations upon which the country was built.
Equality includes everyone having fundamental rights, such as liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, and freedom of assembly. Benjamin Franklin said the Republic would last as long as Americans will keep it one.
Honoring those who died for the Republic does two things; one, Americans give thanks for those whose selflessness kept them safe, and two, it reaffirms they died for the Republic that is the idea of America.
May 30, 1868, was the first official Decoration Day. It was not until 1972 when Memorial Day became the holiday Americans celebrate today.
The holiday was set aside to pay respects to those who died in the line of duty, but the three-day weekend has taken on a party theme — Memorial Day has become the unofficial first day of summer. This tradition keeps American youth in the dark as to the real reason for the day.
Decoration Day to Memorial Day Transition
In May 1865, the Civil War ended after claiming more the 750,000 lives of brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons. It should be noted that women traveled with their spouses fighting alongside the militia; they doctored the wounded and made sure the men were fed.
Recently freed African-Americans held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina, and held a ceremony dedicating the cemetery where they reburied former Union prisoners of war. This is often the event people assume started Memorial Day. However, they intended to honor the men who died on the battlefield.
Americans began paying their respects to the fallen men of the Civil War by decorating graves with dried flowers. As time passed, everyone came to call it Decoration Day — which became official on May 30, 1968. Gen. John A. Logan the head of an organization of Civil War Veterans. During his speech commemorating the day, he spoke powerfully on the importance of commemorating those who died defending the Union.
Eventually, Americans began referring to Decoration Day as Memorial Day. It was celebrated on May 30th, no matter the day of the week. That changed in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which made three holidays land on Mondays — Memorial Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Labor Day.
In 1971, federal law changed the holiday’s observance to the last Monday in May. However, some states continue to honor American’s dead military members on the 30th.
Women in Combat
Even though women are trained to use weapons, they were not “allowed to fight in combat” until 1993, when the Combat Exclusion Policy was lifted, ushering in a new era for female aviators. In 2013, “the U.S. military is lifting the ban on women serving in combat. The move means more than 230,000 positions in the Army, Navy, and Marines can now be filled by women,” according to Time Magazine.
Even during the ban, American women found themselves in combat situations. For example, Jean recalls as a medic during the Vietnam conflict that they were required to carry and be prepared to use weapons against the enemy when picking up injured troops as their helicopter landed.
Since the Revolutionary War, over 1.1 million American troops have died. They were mothers, sisters, daughters, dads, brothers, sons, and friends.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
TIME: Time for Some Fearless Leadership; by Carey D. Lohrenz
American Veterans Care Connections: The Origins of Memorial Day
Library of Congress: Memorial Day
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Matt DiGirolamo’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Zoriah’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License