Millions of Americans gathered as I did this Monday morning to celebrate a day that was originally called Decoration Day, first observed on May 30, 1868, as a day to remember the patriots who died in the Civil War. After WWI the holiday was changed to honor Americans who had died in all of America's wars. It was in 1971 that Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.
Whether at Antietam, Argonne Forest, on Omaha Beach, at the 38th Parallel, on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or in Baghdad, Americans have served in our armed forces sacrificing their lives to defend our flag and all that it represents to a country of freedom-loving people. And there has been terrible losses of lives in wars throughout America's history. According to Department of Defense estimates as of September 30, 2007, America's Wars battle deaths have totaled 651,022, with hundreds of thousands more listed as "In Theater" and "Non-Theater" deaths.
To the questions of "where do we find such men?" President Reagan gave this answer, "where we've always found them in this country. On the farms, in the shops, in the stores and the offices, they are just the product of the freest society man has every known."
Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. Graves of our fallen heroes are ignored and have fallen in disrepair. Proper flag etiquette is not being remembered. There are those who mistakenly believe the day is to honor all who have died, not just those who have fallen in service to our country. Others see Memorial Day weekend as a kick off to a summer's worth of celebrations from graduation parties to weddings to enjoying fun times together with family and friends.
How proud I was of my own community's Memorial Day celebration. From the moment I saw a sign posted on the Village Green in Lake Bluff -- a small but charming Midwest community with a New England-look, bordering on the shores of Lake Michigan, and a short distance down the road from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center -- I looked forward to this day. I stood in reverence as Rudy Iberle, Commander of American Legion Post 510 in Lake Bluff, himself a Korean War veteran, captured the spirit of the day with these words: "Some were decorated with this country's highest military awards, and some were not; but all deserve the tribute that we render to them today!"
I choked up when a roll call of Lake Bluff's own fallen heroes was read. All total their were thirteen battle deaths, with four dating back to the Civil War era. I felt pride as I listened to the poignant remarks of one of Lake Bluff's own, Captain Andrew Rosa, now a commissioned member of the Navy Reserves with a long family tradition of military service going back to the Revolutionary War. Finally the time came for the much awaited and impressive 21-gun salute by a rifle squad dispatched from Marine Air control Group 438 stationed at Great Lakes. And lastly I watched as a somber procession advanced to Lake Bluff's Veterans' Memorial to place a floral wreath of gratitude and remembrance.
As I retraced my steps back home, I thought of my fellow Americans who had gathered as I did on this Monday morning to pause, reflect and honor this nation's war dead. Abraham Lincoln described this sacrifice of life 150 years ago as "the full measure of devotion" to protect America's freedoms, opportunities and prosperity.
Americans must never forget that we have a duty to honor the sacrifices made by our honored heroes to insure that they did not die in vain, for they died to protect this great land, our democracy and us!
Nancy J. Thorner