Friday, May 27, 2011

The Ultimate Sacrifice

On the beginning of this Memorial Day weekend I thought it only fitting to share with you some history.   

Originally known as Decoration Day, it was a day set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves.  The first observance was May 30, 1868.  It was a short speech by General James Garfield at Arlington National Cemetery and then over 5,000 volunteers decorated the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

This 1868 celebration inspired many local observances across America with many cities claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.  This claim went unresolved for 100 years when finally in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y. to be the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Waterloo’s first celebration was on May 5, 1866 and they made it an annual community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.  By the late 1800s, many communities across the country were celebrating Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America's wars.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May to honor those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.  And today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery very much like the first one, with a simple speech by either the president or the vice-president and then a wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Flags are placed at every soldier’s grave, but that is a month long project since there are now over 220,000 soldiers buried in Arlington. 

In 2005, the American Veterans Center created the National Memorial Day Parade which includes 200 entries of military units, hundreds of veterans representing all wars, floats, military bands and 100 HS marching bands, representing all 50 states.  Last year this parade drew over 250,000 spectators to Washington DC.  This year, the Kennedy HS Marching Band will represent Iowa and I have the privilege joining them as their official photographer for the parade and their four days in DC.  The parade is live on the Military Channel, 2 pm on Monday. 

Memorial Day is a rich tradition where all Americans can take pause to pray and to thank our greatest heroes.  Let’s remember to honor those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  And that is the Bottom of our News on this May 27th, 2011


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