Memorial Day- ahhhh the unofficial start to summer! The grill is fired up and gets used to cook hot dogs and hamburgers and maybe some corn on the cob. Perhaps you will watch a Memorial Day parade that includes bands and firetrucks. Swimming pools open. Maybe you will visit the ArtsFest along the river in Harrisburg. The evening may have you seeing fireworks lighting up the sky. Memorial Day is a great day to celebrate the American way of life.
But wait— let’s give some thought as to why we are able to celebrate the freedom of being Americans. Our freedom is challenged when we participate in wars. Fortunately, our victories preserved our freedoms. Unfortunately, the wars also resulted in the loss of lives. The celebration of Memorial Day began in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. It was suggested that the graves of Civil War casualties be decorated with flowers each year on May 30th. May 30th was proclaimed to be “Decoration Day”. For the first observance, about 5000 people were present at Arlington Cemetery near Washington, DC to decorate the soldiers’ graves. Later the name of the day evolved into being Memorial Day, a day to remember the causalities of the wars.
In Nicholas Hobbes’ Essential Militaria: Facts, Legends, and Curiosities about Warfare, he has statistics concerning the percentage of soldiers who were killed and the odds of death during the war. Remember if you weren’t actually killed in battle, you also faced the possibility of dying from various diseases. During the War of Independence 2% of the patriots died; that translates into 1 in 50 dying. During the Civil War 6.7% died and it had the high odds of 1 in 15. During World War I, 1.1 % of American soldiers died which is 1 in 89 and World War II had 1.8 % and 1 in 56 dying. Statistics can be boring but if you look around you and consider that in the Civil War out of 15 of your college age friends or younger— one would be the recipient of flowers decorating his grave on Decoration Day.
Yes, enjoy the long weekend and all the fun that is associated with it but take a moment to remember the sacrifices that have been made so we can have Memorial Day and our freedom.