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The History of Memorial Day

Over 1,380,000 Americans have died in uniform

Memorial Day!

The History of Memorial Day

By Mike Huckabee

Once a year, on the last Monday in May, we set aside a day to honor our fellow Americans who made the greatest of all sacrifices so that the rest of us could continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty and security. Although we’ve seen a number of tragedies recently, with many innocent victims to mourn, we can’t let this day pass without paying our respects to those who gave their lives to preserve our freedom, both recently and long ago.

Memorial Day was born after the Civil War, when families would take a day to tend and decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers.  It soon spread to the North, and became known as Decoration Day.  Eventually, it became a national holiday to honor all American military veterans who gave up their homes, their families, their very lives — everything they had, or ever dreamed of having – all in sacrifice for their country.  And just how many have made that ultimate sacrifice?  Brace yourself: 

From the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, the Civil War and Spanish American war, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other wars, police actions and rescue missions around the world since 1776, over one million, three hundred and eight thousand Americans have died in uniform.

Imagine if all those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen could come back to life for a Memorial Day parade. Picture them marching past in rows of ten, each row taking just 10 seconds to pass.  That parade would stretch on and on, row after row, 360 rows per hour, for hour after hour, 24 hours a day, for over 15 straight days.  That is the enormity of the military casualties America has experienced since 1776.  That doesn’t even include the millions more who sacrificed their limbs, their sight, their peace of mind, and the best years of their lives, all for us.

Makes you realize just how ignorant and slanderous it is to claim America’s history is built on slavery, racism and selfishness instead of freedom, compassion and sacrifice. 

Today’s military members, like those before them, risk their lives to protect the cherished American principles of liberty, equality, democracy, fighting tyranny and defending the weak.  Previous generations guarded these bedrock principles so that they could be passed down to us.  It is now our sacred duty to preserve them for future generations. 

Every year, the American Legion sells poppy pins to support veterans and their families.  May 26th was National Poppy Day this year (https://www.legion.org/poppyday). I hope you bought one and are wearing it proudly. If not, you can still go to their website to buy their merchandise and make a donation to support them.

The poppy became the symbol of Memorial Day, thanks to the famous poem, “In Flanders’ Fields,” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae.  He wrote it in memory of his friend Alexis Helmer, whom he watched die in battle in World War I. 

The poem starts, “In Flanders’ fields, the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row…” 

You can read the entire poem at the American Legion link above. It’s very short, but it conveys a powerful message of the depth of those soldiers’ sacrifice and the debt we owe them all. 

With the pandemic now over, we can once again gather in most places to show our support for veterans and our gratitude to those who gave their lives to protect our freedom. But even if you’re unable to attend a public commemoration, you can still show your support by proudly flying the American flag today.  And we can all offer support to some of the many great veterans’ organizations, such as the VFW and the American Legion.

Another great organization with an especially timely mission is Code Of Vets, founded by Air Force veteran Gretchen Smith.  She and a staunch supporter, the late Charlie Daniels, once appeared on “Huckabee” on TBN to talk about the group’s efforts to provide support to veterans who have fallen through the cracks in the VA health care system and prevent them from becoming part of the shockingly high veteran suicide statistics. You can learn more and donate at http://www.codeofvets.com.  It’s tax-deductible, and with their 1% operating costs, you can rest easy knowing that 99 cents of every dollar given goes directly to help veterans in need.

And of course, one more thing we can all do from wherever we are is stop for a moment and think of all the rows and rows of crosses in veterans’ cemeteries…say a prayer of thanks to them…and remember that each and every cross represents a genuine American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. 

McCrae’s poem ends, “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch.  Be yours, to hold it high.  If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders’ fields.” If you really want to memorialize these greatest of American heroes, then take up the torch they passed to us. Hold it high, and never let it drop.

 

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