Memorial Day: A Time to Remember Our Heroes
by MAJ. GEN. PAUL E. VALLELY, US ARMY (RET)
May 30, 2011
We pause this day in America to remember our fallen heroes, the men and women who answered the call of freedom and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Let us remember and thank them for the nights they slept freezing in a tent or sweating in the desert, for the lonely days they spent fighting boredom and missing loved ones, for the hours they spent sick in pain from battle and without someone holding their hand other than their fellow soldiers, for the moments of sheer fright in the heat of battle, for the wounds suffered fighting evil, for the endless days in hospitals undergoing painful surgeries, for the precious occasions missed at home with family and friends.
For all of these sacrifices, we need to thank them on behalf of millions of Americans who are so grateful. We truly appreciate their dedication to duty. A special thank you to all families and friends, to the parents who raised them, stood by them and made them honorable men and woman. We thank the wives, husbands, and loved ones who stood by them and supported them with their love.
May their legacy be honored for generations to come, may the tears shed over their coffins fertilize the fields of patriotism in our nation. The new generations to come must be built on strength, duty, honor and country, willing and able to follow in their Warrior footsteps when duty calls to defend America. May their blood not have been shed in vain. May we prove worthy of their sacrifice.
You who have served and are serving as our brave ones, our heroes, are our national treasures. You are the pride of our nation, our strength and our foundation. Thanks to you, millions have been freed around the world. Those who criticize our country, burn our precious flag, and speak ill of you, are able to do so because their freedom is built upon your blood and your sacrifice.
Our son speaks from his resting place below our feet. He speaks to me each day from his hallowed space with beautiful skies and mountains majestic white with snow. God bless his soul and the others buried here and I thank him for his wonderful contribution to our life. He lives forever in our hearts. I fear no evil when I walk with Warriors. We walk in the valley of death but we fear no evil. We are the Masters of our Destiny and the Captain of our souls. You are the wind beneath my wings. I fly with you forever in eternity.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began as a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flags and flowers to show the respect of a grateful nation for their service and sacrifice. This tradition continues today, and our nation now sets aside the last Monday in May to celebrate the courage of the men and women who have worn America's colors in war and in peace.
I remember as a young man remembering Memorial that in the morning there was a parade down Main Street, led by a color guard, the high school band, and ranks of veterans from World War I, World War II, and the war of the moment, Korea. The Veterans of Foreign Wars sold red poppies to raise funds for the disabled. Politicians made speeches and citizens prayed in public. It was a solemn annual event that taught us reverence for those who served and sacrificed for our country. It’s no longer so in many places in America, especially in our large urban areas.
Begun as a local observance in the aftermath of the Civil War, the first national commemoration took place on May 30, 1868, at the direction of General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Though his “General Order No. 11” specified “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion” – meaning only Union soldiers – those who tended the burial sites at Arlington, VA, Gettysburg, PA and Vicksburg, MS, decided on their own to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate war dead.
For five decades the holiday remained essentially unchanged. But in 1919, as the bodies of young Americans were being returned to the U.S. from the battlefields of World War I, May 30th became a truly national event. It persisted as such until 1971, during Vietnam – the war America wanted to forget – when the Uniform Holiday Act passed by Congress went into effect, and turned Memorial Day into a “three-day weekend.” Since then, it’s become an occasion for appliance, mattress and auto sales, picnics, barbecues and auto races. Thankfully, there are some places besides Arlington National Cemetery like Bigfork, Montana where Memorial Day is still observed as a time to honor America’s war dead.
This Memorial Day we remember those who have served our nation in the past and those who currently serve America today. Although Memorial Day comes only once a year, we must make sure that our service members know how grateful we are every day. It recognizes the sacrifices made by our courageous men and women who have fallen in defense of our nation's liberty. I went to Walter Reed Army Hospital last week and visited four of our recently Wounded Warriors, their family members and the Medical Staff. It was heart-wrenching and emotional to say the least.
This Memorial Day, please take a moment to remember and honor America’s fallen and current day warriors who are advancing freedom’s cause today. WE salute you one and all. WE bow before you in respect and humility. May God bless you and God bless America, land of the free and home of the brave. Thank you for being here today.