Memorial Day -- More than a day off

There is a confluence of important dates that have come together to form this special Memorial Day. Yes, all Memorial Days are special, but this one in the year 2015 is poignant. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. In fact, Memorial Day was birthed from Decoration Day after the Civil War to honor the war dead on both sides of the conflict. Now we honor all who gave their last measure for this country we call home.

This year also has several other notable anniversaries. It was 70 years ago when Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini received his comeuppance and was murdered about a month before his partner in World War II, Adolf Hitler, took his own life. No tears to shed here. Also later this year will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II when Japan signed articles of surrender on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. Once this nation’s mightiest ship afloat, it is now a museum at Pearl Harbor. And it was 40 years ago that Saigon fell, marking the end of the Vietnam War.

While Decoration Day had meaning, most of the celebrations surrounding Memorial Day involve a day off work, family gatherings, a kickoff to summer and cookouts. That’s not what it’s meant to be. While the tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves dates back before the Civil War, many Americans don’t carry a fleeting thought about the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their freedoms. Can we change that?

Sometime this weekend, can we stop and take a moment to pray for the brave souls who shed their blood on our behalf? They may have been one of the 15,500 who died in the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in 1862 or the 1,090 who died in the Battle of Brandy Station in 1863. They may have been one of the 2,499 casualties on D-Day, June 6, 1944, alone. They join the 405,000 who died between 1941 and 1945. Korea claimed another 36,000 American lives, and Vietnam got 58,000. And while the numbers are smaller for wars fought since, those losses hurt just as much. Their sacrifices are just as great. Their devotion to country is just as grand.

Make this Memorial Day special. There are several meaningful celebrations of our heroes all over Middle Georgia. Attend one of the services and give a salute to those who carried the flag for all of us. Take the entire family. No child is too young to learn about bravery, honor, devotion to country and loyalty.