On Monday, we will celebrate Memorial Day. The holiday was first widely observed in May 1868 as a commemoration of the sacrifices of the Civil War. Following a proclamation Gen. John A. Logan, participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
It soon came to be known as Decoration Day, and since World War 1, the day has become a celebration of honor for all of America’s veterans and active service members. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday for the last Monday of May.
President Ronald Reagan is credited with reviving the practice of honoring Memorial Day and its meaning. One of Reagan's most memorable speeches, in fact, was given on Memorial Day 1986 at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. We at the Athens Review share his sentiments, and we thank all our service members, veterans and their families for stepping up to serve as America's heroes.
“Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It's a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It's a day to be with the family and remember.
“Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper's son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, 'I know we'll win because we're on God's side.' Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, 'Wait a minute and I'll let you speak to them.”
Reagan also told of the courage and service of the astronauts who died on the space shuttle Challenger, and he spoke of a Civil War veteran who went on to become a Massachusetts judge and ultimately a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
“All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn't do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It's hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it's the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins.
“And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.
“If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.”