Although the exact origins of the first Memorial Day to honor the nation's war dead are debated by historians, there is general agreement that the holiday began May 30, 1866, just one year after the end of the American Civil War.
One hundred and twenty-two years later, many Memorial Day observances will once again take place at the cemeteries associated with battlefields of that famous conflict.Sadly, however, the roll call of war stretching across more than a century has added many more names to that list containing Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run, the Wilderness, and other bloody battles.
American soldiers have subsequently fallen in battle in the Spanish-American War;, in the murderous trenches of World War I; in the far-flung land, sea, and air battles of World War II; in the rugged hills of Korea; in the jungles of Vietnam, and in dozens of small actions in many corners of the world.
For many years, the quiet cemeteries honoring American dead have been found all over Europe and Asia and points in-between. And for what purpose have these tens of thousands died? What do those silent rows say to us? Those are questions that Memorial Day should cause us to ponder.
Memorial Day is not merely a long weekend, an extra day off work, or a chance for picnics, trips, or other fun and games. As the name itself says, it is a day to remember - to think about what all those graves mean.
There is a direct link between the peace and liberty that America enjoys as a nation and the price paid by those who fought and died in behalf of the United States. Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves on this special occasion if we are worth that price. That's a solemn thought.
Ultimately, we must do more than simply scatter flowers on the graves of fallen heroes. We must be the kind of people, the kind of country, that makes their deaths mean something.
Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed it at the Gettysburg cemetery, that we "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."