The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men.
— Minot J. Savage

The end of May has come once again and with it follows what I believe is one of the most important holidays for Americans, Memorial Day. Most of us will be spending time with family and friends while others may be having a cookout or barbecue. Still more will travel to camp or enjoy the outdoors. What we cannot forget, in all these great summer activities, is the reason why we can enjoy this long weekend. We mustn't forget why we have the freedom we do and Memorial Day is there to remind us each year.

The first instance of Memorial Day celebration came in the immediate wake of the American Civil War. In January 1866 in Columbus Georgia, the Ladies' Memorial Association came up with a plan to lay flowers at every fallen soldier's grave. Wanting more widespread participation, they advertised across the nation, encouraging others to join in their hometown. The first Memorial Day took place on April 26, 1866, the day on which most of the Confederacy surrendered just a year earlier. What began as an event to lay flowers on confederate graves turned into laying flowers on the union graves as well. Soon, every soldier's grave had a flower on it to remember the sacrifices made. The next two years had Memorial Day fall on the 26th of April, but in 1868 it became a federal holiday. Due to the lack of flowers blooming in the northern states in April, the date was officially pushed back to May 30th. It remained this way until 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was set in place which mandated federal holidays fall on a Monday. Memorial Day was then reserved for the last Monday in May.

The first Memorial Day in Columbus, GA  Credit: Columbus State University Archives

The first Memorial Day was started by citizens who understood the sacrifices made in war and wanted to show their appreciation. This represents everything that we used to be as a nation. A country of people who are thankful for what they have and thankful for those who gave their lives for freedom. I still believe that mindset is present in our day and age. From the "support our troops" ribbons to the care packages to the simple thank you, the intent is alive and well. So what makes our society different from the one that created Memorial Day? My belief is that it comes down to the newest generations; the ones, like myself, who grew up during Desert Storm/Shield and GWOT. I have noticed that most people who are thankful for the sacrifices made are the ones who have lived long enough to know the effect those sacrifices have. They are also mothers and fathers who think "what if that was my son or daughter" and feel empathy for the grieving family. This is the way it should be because as a nation united, when one of our heroes give their life in defense of this country, America as a whole loses a son or daughter. 

Never be afraid to fly the colors so many have died for

So why are our newest generations so much different? It is my personal belief and experience that my generation is taught that our military is full of criminals. They are taught to believe that our military is just a puppet for the government to use to gain resources or land by force. It's a phenomenon for which I have no explanation. The demonizing of our men and women in uniform is widespread among young adults and teens. It could be the colleges they attend where their degree in social justice makes them an expert on the military or it could be their upbringing. Whatever is causing our nation's future to despise the very organizations that protect their freedoms is something that must be combated. It is up to the nation to teach it's children that freedom isn't free, that it's paid for in blood. The nation that forgets it's defenders will itself be forgotten. 

What is the point I am trying to make? All I ask on this 150th Memorial Day is that you remember the fallen. Remember those who gave their lives for your freedom to enjoy your choice of burgers or hot-dogs, Coke or Pepsi, mustard or ketchup. Raise a glass tonight to those who never got to see their child grow up or never even came back home. Never forget the ones whose blank check was cashed for the freedom to protest the war we are in. Speak to your children and loved ones and make sure they understand why today is a day off school or work. We cannot afford to not know the reason for Memorial Day.

While we remember the sacrifices, do not overlook the families they left behind. If you know anyone who lost a son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father in any conflict, be sure to tell them thank you and that you appreciate the freedoms you have. The freedoms made possible by that individual's loved one. Memorial Day is about coming together as a nation to reflect on why we have all that we do. 

So please, enjoy today, but be sure to fly a flag or say a prayer and thank those who gave everything for this beautiful country. 

What are your thoughts? Who do you celebrate Memorial Day for? Let us know in the comments below and share this with your friends. Let's make sure everyone knows exactly why we observe today. Enjoy your holiday.