by Bud Collette
Our other national holidays would have no meaning if it were not for the sacrifices we honor on Memorial Day. Supreme sacrifices should be remembered with dignity. Memorial Day is such a celebration.
But it is much more than waving flags and hearing speeches. The Fourth of July celebrates our independence. Thanksgiving expresses gratitude for our blessings. Veterans Day honors those who served.
But Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives to preserve that independence and those blessings. The parades, picnics and the arrival of summer take nothing away from this very special day for all patriots.
Memorial Day combines the meaning of every other national holiday. It represents, perhaps better than the other holidays, why so many sons and daughters of other lands have dreamed of being Americans.
Memorial Day touches the hearts and memories of all Americans who love their country. Every parade and every picnic is graced by the felt presence, however unseen, of the sons and daughters who loved their country enough to give up their lives for it.
Since last Memorial Day, the movie "Saving Private Ryan" has reminded Americans of history's greatest feat of arms and sacrifices of World War II that touched every family. But no victory, even one as hard-fought as World War II, is permanent. Peace must be preserved by each new generation. Memorial Day is a day-long, nation-wide prayer for that peace.
America will not be outdone in honoring those who paid the ultimate price to purchase the freedoms other nations envy. No other nation has sacrificed so much of its human treasure and blood of its young to purchase not only its own freedom, but that of other nations. No other nation has so many heroes buried in so many cemeteries in so many foreign lands.
Enemies of our great nation have thought we were too soft to fight and too selfish to sacrifice our lives. More than a million heroes have proven them wrong.
Honoring fallen heroes has a history as old as the human race. Women from both the North and South decorated the graves of their fallen sons and husbands with flowers. Our nation was anxious to honor its dead in the years immediately after the Civil War. The first National Memorial Day was May 30, 1868. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was present at that service.
It was held in the national cemetery created for our military heroes at Arlington, Va. The main speaker was Gen. (and later President) James Garfield. Garfield said, "If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of 15,000 men who gave their lives and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung."
Garfield expressed the national reverence for its heroes that Memorial Day. By 1890 it was a legal holiday in all northern states. It has since expanded to all 50 states, and to include all wars since the Civil War.
The most solemn observance, like that on Veterans Day, is the placing of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. But for most Americans, Memorial Day means parades to the local cemetery and decorating graves with flowers and small American flags. We honor our war dead today not only out of respect and gratitude, but for another reason: to remind the young that the world is still a dangerous place. Heroes will always be needed. Our young need to know the price our heroes have paid, and that their generation may be called to duty.
The souls of those who paid the price need to know it was not in vain. Thank you.
C.A. Bud Collette is Past Commander Chapter 573, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and a Korean War veteran.