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Remembering Memorial Day

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For many people Memorial Day Weekend is little more than a day off of work (or school if you haven’t finished for the year yet). This attitude can come off as disrespectful but I think it’s more accurate to view it as a sign of youthful innocence. Memorial day is one of our country’s most celebrated holidays but to understand it’s importance we need to go back to 1800s.

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The 1800’s were not the most peaceful times in America.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American History. Nearly every casualty was, whether they liked it or not, a US citizen. Battles at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg spent the lives of over 600,000 soldiers in just four years. That’s like losing the population of Boston in the time it takes to graduate high school. Today, as it was then, it’s impossible to comprehend that level of loss. It may have been a war for the soul of our nation but it’s hard to imagine there’d be much of a nation left if it had lasted much longer.

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These women are standing in front of the Civil War Unknowns Monument in Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day 1915

As a way to honor the fallen, respect their sacrifices, and somehow heal the impossible wound of losing a loved one, the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization of veterans) organized Decoration Day in 1868. Originally this day of observance was intended for Union casualties only but overtime it merged with similar southern traditions and was renamed Memorial Day. In 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved several holidays, Memorial Day included, from whenever they were originally observed to Mondays with the goal of creating convenient 3-day weekends. Today most businesses honor Memorial Day and the practice of decorating the gravestones of fallen veterans remains largely the same as it was in 1868. Time has moved forward but now the day honors heroes of more recent wars along with those of the distant past.

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Pearl Harbor Memorial Day 1950.

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