On May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of veterans who served for the Union during the Civil War) established Decoration Day, encouraging people to decorate the graves of those who died during the war with flowers. A ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery. GAR members walked through the cemetery placing flowers on all graves, whether Union or Confederate. The event became an annual day of remembrance. After World War I, it was expanded to include those who died in all wars.
In many instances, death came instantaneously. But in many instances, death may have taken longer and been much more painful and torturous. They died far from home, and often with little or no company. Many of them, even in death, were not able to return home.
There is no question that those who made the supreme sacrifice are deserving of this special honor. Unfortunately, as is happening in many places in our modern world, we are forgetting the true meaning of Memorial Day. As we zoom through life, we do the expedient thing, paying little attention.
Over the last few days, I have seen many people remembering family members who have served over the years. I think it is tremendously important to thank those who fought and served. My own family has had many who served: my grandfather, Theodore Edward Morin, who served in the Navy’s Merchant Marine with his brother Emil, during World War II; my great-uncle, Leo Dupre, who was an Army seargant when he was captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp; my uncle, William Smith, who was a U.S. Marine during Vietnam; my brother, Dennis Leclerc, who served in the Air National Guard; my cousin, Richard Gagne, who served in the Air Force; my cousin, Eric Leclerc, who is still serving and just returned from another tour in Afghanistan.
But, while their service was important and deserves to be honored, yesterday was not the day to remember them. That day will come in the fall, when we celebrate Veterans Day.
Yesterday was the day to remember those whose sacrifice went further than anyone else. They deserve a special day, all to themselves. All of the Gold Star Mothers out there deserve a special day to have all Americans honor that sacrifice made their sons and daughters. They will never get to hold them again, or see them marry and have children. Their grandchildren will never again know the embrace of their father or mother.
My family has seen these deaths as well. My great-uncle, Éloi Morin, died at the Battle of the Argonne in World War II. My grandfather’s cousin, Albert Leclerc, died when his ship, the U.S.S. Chevalier was torpedoed by the Japanese near the Solomon Islands. One lies in a peaceful cemetery in France, the other at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, took special note of the significance of the contribution of those who lost their lives in battle, and perhaps best summarizes my feelings that Memorial Day needs to continue to be about those who died in service:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those who serve in our armed forces are so important to us as a country that they are the only ones who have not one, but two Federal holidays int heir honor. So please, let us keep Memorial Day for our honored dead. And keep Veterans Day for all those who served, especially those who were lucky enough to come back to us.