They are days for reflection, days for honoring those who have served, and especially for those of us who have served in the military, they are days with profound significance. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are holidays dedicated to the men and women of the armed services. Sadly these holidays are often viewed as either “an easy day off”, or as an inconvenience due to the businesses that are closed, but so much we enjoy is a direct result of the efforts these holidays revere.
Each of the holidays pays homage to a different aspect of our armed services, and though some overlap is natural, it’s important to recognize the differences between the two.
Memorial Day was started in 1868 after the Civil War when a group of veterans from the Union army asked for a day to be set aside in order to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers. When World War 1 was completed, the holiday, originally called “Decoration Day”, was changed to honor the deceased American military soldiers from all wars.
The spirit of reverence for Memorial Day is perhaps best expressed by Abraham Lincoln in his address at Gettysburg “…from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – — that we here highly 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.”
Veterans Day came into existence during World War 1, but was originally called “Armistice Day” as a way of showing respect for the provisional termination of hostilities between the Allied Forces and Germany. After World War 2 the name of the holiday was changed from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day” in order to include the men and women currently serving or who had served in any of the U.S. military branches. While Veterans Day also encompasses those service members who have died, the focus is much more upon honoring “those who serve” in the military.
Memorial Day honors those who have, in each generation, served, fought and died protecting and defending not just the United States, but for the freedom and ideals that the United States was founded upon. Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring and revering those who have gone before us, reminding us that the freedoms we enjoy were not free, and that the price for those freedoms was and is paid for dearly with each drop of blood and life given in our country’s service.
Two different holidays, honoring two different aspects of American patriotism, heroism and courage – those in service and who have served, an those who gave their “last full measure of devotion”. Two separate holidays, that are reflections and enhancements of the other. It is a humbling thought that over 640,000 servicemen and servicewomen have made that ultimate sacrifice since the Civil War, representing the United State in conflicts around the world.
So as you are watching the parades, attending ceremonies, or spending time with family-hopefully you’ll take a moment to reflect with reverence on the price paid to purchase this holiday. God Bless America, and those who have given their all protecting the freedoms and ideals we enjoy – and may God protect those who are serving in the military, sacrificing so much to keep those freedoms and ideals safe. At least, that’s the way I see it…hopefully you do too.