If you ask most Americans, few have any idea why we celebrate Memorial Day. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that only 28 percent of Americans know the true meaning behind this national holiday. To far too many, the last Monday in May is little more than a much-deserved day off, an opportunity to buy a car at a rock-bottom price, grill a burger in the backyard, or catch a few rays at the beach. Memorial Day is a big opportunity for racing enthusiasts, too; the Indianapolis 500 has been held on the holiday since 1911.
Clearly, our modern-day Memorial Day celebration is miles away from the original intent of its founders. Originally called Decoration Day, it was born out of the custom of decorating the graves of loved ones. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic as a day to remember those who had fallen as a result of the Civil War. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Civil War is responsible for more than 1,030,000 casualties (three percent of the population), including approximately 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease. The war accounted for more casualties than all other US wars combined.
Here are some other sobering US casualty statistics from major conflicts * (as of July 29, 2020):
- Revolutionary War: 4,435
- War of 1812: 2,260
- Mexican War: 13,283
- American Civil War: 498,332
- Spanish-American War: 2,446
- World War I: 116,516
- World War II: 405,399
- Korea: 36,574
- Vietnam: 58,224
- Persian Gulf War: 1,947
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,418
- Operation New Dawn: 74
- Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,349
- Operation Inherent Resolve: 96
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel: 93
* Statistics vary greatly depending upon the source. In most cases, the numbers above reflect those from the Congressional Research Service.
Most of us take the freedoms we enjoy for granted, but those freedoms were paid for at a very high cost—brave men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so we would have the honor of living in the greatest nation on earth. One only needs to visit a veterans cemetery, and see row after row of white crosses, to grasp the gravity of that sacrifice. Those souls gave their all so we could have the right, and the freedom, to enjoy the American way of life.
This Memorial Day before you bring out the lawn chairs and light the grill, take a moment to contemplate the gift of freedom you have been so unselfishly given. Those who have sacrificed their lives have earned it.