Memorial Day is not just about celebrating the beginning of summer. It’s not about a three-day weekend, nor is it about barbecues or beach days or beer. This spring marks the 150th anniversary of the end America’s most solemn event.
The Civil War is the bloodiest conflict in American history. The violence and bloodshed of such battles as Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Antietam were unprecedented, resulting in the deaths of more than 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. The cost of human lives in the Civil War has not been equalled by that of any other American conflict, and it amounts to almost one half of the total of all America’s fatal war casualties throughout history.
Three years following the end of the war, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day to commemorate the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. Decoration Day was to be observed on the 30th of May, when flowers are in bloom all over the country, as a time to decorate the graves of those who had fallen during tragic war.
Having claimed more lives than any other conflict in American History, the Civil War required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery, located on a hillside across from the Potomac River and overlooking Washington, D.C., was the site of the first commemoration of Decoration Day in 1868, as General James Garfield and General Ulysses S. Grant led the ceremony and 5,000 war widows and mourners strewed flowers about the graves of their comrades who died in defense of their country.
Decoration Day, which was eventually renamed Memorial Day, originally honored only those who died in the Civil War. But during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate all American military men and women who died in war. Arlington National Cemetery remains a tragic and reverent site to this day, as hundreds of thousands of the nation’s men and women of the armed forces are memorialized in straight line upon straight line of austere white tombstones matching the military precision of the lines in which the men and women who have fallen for our country once stood.
It is important as citizens of this beautiful, free country to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day, to remember the history of our nation’s fight for freedom, the magnitude of all who fell in the tragic American Civil War, and the courage and valor of every man and woman who has sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation’s armed forces since.
There is much more to Memorial Day than barbecue and beer. But there is also no better way to commemorate the fallen and celebrate our freedom and love of country than precisely that. Soparticipate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m., but also make the most of your freedom and enjoy your time with your loved ones around the grill or picnicking on the beach.
Here are some ideas for your Memorial Day celebration:
March in a parade: Check outfleetweeknewyork.comfor a comprehensive list of events.
Attend a Memorial Day concert: There are tons of free concerts around the city to commemorate our country’s military service men and women.
Originally published at newscult.com on May 25, 2015.