For nearly 150 years now, our nation has set aside a day to remember those who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom.
It is perhaps fitting that Memorial Day, which traces its roots to the Civil War, was itself the source of conflict for so many years. It is believed to have begun in the South, when Confederate widows decorated not only the graves of their loved ones but also those of Union soldiers, knowing their families were grieving as well.
It is the North, though, that is considered the official birthplace, since New York was the first state to formally recognize May 30th as the date each year to mourn our fallen soldiers. Other northern states soon adopted the same day, but many of their southern counterparts refused until the end of World War I. Instead, their days of remembrance ranged from January through early June.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Congress established the national holiday as we now know it: the last full weekend of May.
For many, of course, this is the unofficial kick-off to summer. While that may be true, Memorial Day carries much more significance than that.
It is a time when we recall the more than 1.3 million men and women who have served our country since the Revolutionary War but did not make it back home.
It is a time when we remember the battles that stand as signposts along our country’s history, from Bunker Hill, Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor to Saigon, Baghdad and Kabul.
It is a time when a moment of silence can say so much.
Kentuckians understand that better than most. One in 10 Kentucky adults is a veteran, and Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and the Kentucky National Guard have long played integral roles in our country’s defense. Going back even further, more Kentuckians died in the War of 1812 than every other states’ casualties combined.
This coming weekend, especially on Monday, numerous ceremonies and parades will be held across the commonwealth and the country to honor those who gave all they had when we needed them most. They may no longer be with us, but their legacy still shines.
If you are a veteran or are still serving, I want to say how much I appreciate your willingness to carry this mission forward. Our world now is different in so many ways from the time of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, but the unfailing commitment that our men and women in uniform give every day to duty, honor and country remains unchanged.
As we pay tribute to those who gave so much to so many, I hope you can take part in one of this weekend’s Memorial Day events. If that is not possible, I encourage you to take a moment to recall the sacrifice given on our behalf. It is crucial that we never let time and indifference cause the memory of our fallen soldiers to fade.
We can find guidance from former Union General John Logan, who just a few years after the end of the Civil War called for flowers to be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
In his proclamation, he wrote that “we should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
One hundred and forty five years later, those words still hold true, and they will for centuries to come. They remind us what Memorial Day is really all about.