For many Americans Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, which is well and good. Please take time this weekend, in the midst of family picnics and other gatherings, to remember exactly why the United States pauses.
The first Memorial Day was observed in Waterloo, N.Y., in 1866 as a way to honor fallen Civil War soldiers. It was more than a century later -- 1971 -- when the U.S. Congress official recognized it as a national holiday. It was long overdue.
Since the Revolutionary War, nearly two and a half centuries ago, more than 1.2 million U.S. military people have died in service of our nation. Most of them died in the Civil War and World War II -- more than 1 million combined.
These heroes are more than names on the roll call of history. It is a roster that lengthens every week in the far off lands of Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 4,000 service members have died in the Operation Iraqi Freedom and another 2,200 have died in Operation Enduring Freedom in the past 11 years. They are names and faces from our lifetime, compatriots whose absence is felt every day by families, friends and communities.
Many Valley neighbors have deep military ties that go back generations. Walk through any memorial park in any town today and look at the names -- names you can still find in the phonebook. For these families, every day is Memorial Day.
Tell your kids what Memorial Day means, why they have time off from school. Applaud the veterans walking in parades this weekend. Shake a veteran's hand and thank him or her. Proudly hang the flag on your front porch.
General John A. Logan, recognized as the originator of Memorial Day, summarized the holiday in the best way possible when he said the day was a way "among other things, of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance."