It’s hard to believe just how fast the year has flown by. More of our high school students are graduating or have already graduated. Flowers are blooming and Memorial Day is upon us once more.
One of the common reminders we receive about Memorial Day is it honors the sacrifice made by the brave members of our Armed Forces who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. What I did not know was how greatly African Americans and women contributed to Memorial Day’s origins. In 1865, 10,000 newly freed slaves joined supporters of other races to bury former Union prisoners with honor in Charleston, South Carolina. On April 25, 1866, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the local graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
The celebration of an annual Memorial Day began to gain steam. In Carbondale, Illinois, townspeople organized their first Memorial Day ceremonies on April 5, 1867, including marching bands and speeches commemorating the fallen. They invited Civil War General and the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic John A. Logan to give one such speech in which he said the significance of the ceremonies were to not only honor the dead but to “bind up the wounds of the living.”
Historian Mabel Thompson Rauch writes that the event was so successful at softening the “bitterness remaining from war days that immediately following it plans were discussed for a permanent Memorial Day to be held each year.” On May 30, 1868, General Logan issued a proclamation declaring the first Decoration Day in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Observers “decorated” the graves of veterans with flags.
In recent years memes have circulated on social media admonishing us to remember that Memorial Day shouldn’t be treated like a celebration. It turns out, those sentiments aren’t new. There have been critics of Memorial Day parades, barbecues, fireworks, and long weekends at the beach periodically since the 1940s.
I can honestly say, I’ve felt that we could pay more respect to our fallen heroes on Memorial Day. As I’ve learned more about how it all started, I realize part of its genesis was not only in honoring those who gave their lives but also in celebrating them. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was also a Lieutenant in the Civil War who expressed the dueling sentiments of mourning and celebration very well. He wrote, “Such hearts… were stilled twenty years ago: and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year – in the full tide of spring – at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life – there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death… But grief is not the end of all… Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death – of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.”
When I think about those brave souls who chose to lay down their lives that liberty might live, I’m reminded of President Reagan’s remarks commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. He said, “You knew some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny… Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”
I was honored this week to join Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady in a ceremony officially opening the Wall of Remembrance display in our state’s Capitol. The Wall of Remembrance features a moving display of photos and stories of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Jim Frazier addressed attendees at the ceremony. Jim is a former Marine, a Gold Star Dad, and a contract Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator for the Department of the Army whose son Jacob, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2003. Jim said, “There’s an old saying, ‘A person dies twice, once when life leaves their body, and again when their name is spoken for the last time.’ Remember them. Speak their names.”
Let’s do that this Memorial Day Weekend. Let’s remember the lives of those who fought and died. Let’s speak their names. Let’s celebrate their sacrifice by having a wonderful Memorial Day.
We can remember in our hearts to thank them for their service and, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
As for our state government, there has been very little action. There has been some more talk about a budget, but no budget. There has been talk about a capital plan, and plenty of new taxes. Next week is the last week of the session, and I expect we’ll be very busy. I promise to do my best and keep you updated.
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.