Memorial Day 2015: Understanding The Meaning Of A Long Forgotten American Holiday

With Memorial Day 2015 just around the corner, many Americans are getting ready for parades and events, as well as preparing for trips to visit family. Part of Military Appreciation Month now, which is designated to honor veterans, the military, and their families, Memorial Day is the final holiday in the month-long tribute to those who served as well as those who died.

Just as there are discounts and freebies for veterans and their families on Veterans Day, there are also discounts and freebies for veterans and their families on Memorial Day. As evidenced by the number of videos on YouTube promoting sales, Memorial Day seems to have become as commercial as Christmas and the true meaning of the holiday forgotten. Twitter is also full of events and activities to celebrate.

Recently, as some American college students began to stomp the flag after the Eric Shepard Challenge, according to the Washington Times, it made me wonder if Americans really understand the meaning of this holiday. Do Americans understand the sacrifice made so they would have the right to stomp the flag?

Why are there people in America today who are so angry, and why don’t they understand the precious gift of freedom they have been given? Maybe it is ignorance because they just don’t understand the sacrifice made in the wars America has fought.

No one hates war more than the soldier. I know this because I served, many of my friends served, and many of those friends have served in combat, and so they understand the carnage that results. I have seen that thousand-yard stare that has the power to kill the soul.

One of my favorite stories, and one I often think about during Memorial Day, is the story from the book Flags of Our Fathers. It tells the story of those who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. After three days of fighting on the island, three of the six men involved were dead. One died an early death from alcoholism while one tried to cash in without success.

The sixth was a Navy Corpsman named John Bradley who came home from the war, got married, raised a family, and became a funeral director where he helped the grieving for the rest of his life. What his family didn’t know until after he died is that he was awarded the Navy Cross for Iwo Jima, the Navy’s second-highest award for valor. He died a hero. According to his son James, his father kept to himself and never talked about his experiences on the battlefield, so the family was surprised when they found the Navy Cross.

There are many stories like that of the sacrifices made in war. War changes a person. Even when service members come home from the battlefield, they often leave a part of themselves behind. So Memorial Day 2015 isn’t just about commemorating those who gave their lives for our country. It is about commemorating those who came home because some gave their limbs, and some just plain gave their hearts and souls to those they fought beside. They left a part of themselves behind and made a huge sacrifice for people they didn’t even know. It is a sacrifice that is priceless where so few gave so much for so many, and it is a sacrifice that can never be repaid.

Neglect of our war dead is rooted in the holiday itself. The history of Memorial Day began around 1866 after the Civil War to pay tribute to those who had died. May 30 was chosen as the day to commemorate those who died and place flowers on the graves because this was the day when there would be flowers everywhere. Although the official birthplace of the holiday was declared in 1966 to be Waterloo, New York, as early as 1866, Southern women in Mississippi placed flowers on the graves of Union soldiers when they noticed the neglect of their graves.

They paid tribute to the enemy, setting aside their differences out of respect. Setting aside our differences and showing gratitude for our freedom is something sorely needed in American today as we get ready to commemorate Memorial Day 2015. Americans need to set aside their differences and remember the great sacrifices made on their behalf. Most of all, it is a day to be grateful for the rights we have that were purchased at such a great price. It is time to ask: Why are so many so ungrateful for the gift of freedom they have been given?

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