We Americans set aside one day in 365 to remember those who gave their lives for our nation. This custom began in the midst of the Civil War when southern ladies reverently placed flowers on the graves of their war-fallen fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. In 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic declared May 30th as Decoration Day, an observance to be honored nationwide. Thus began Decoration Day.
General Logan's intent was to remember both northern and southern soldiers who gave their lives; however, today for starters, we should also include those young and old patriots who fought with George Washington in our earlier REVOLUTIONARY WAR. Many of these first soldiers who gave their lives for our fledgling nation are laid to rest in graves up and down the eastern seaboard. Here on the downeast coast at Cutler, we can stand before the tombstone and grave in honoring John I. Davis in his last resting place. Davis served with General George Washington at Valley Forge and died of old age in Cutler; but the American Revolutionary War cost us 25,000* [*see footnote] military casualties.
During the WAR OF 1812, the British attempted to assert the King's designs upon our country. Brave Americans were impressed against their will and forced to serve in the British Navy; and many were sent to Darthmoore Prison in England to languish and die far away from home. The War of 1812 totalled 20,000 military casualties.
The CIVIL WAR took the lives of over a half million Americans from both Union and Confederate forces. Before the 4-1/2-year bloody conflict, we used to say of ourselves: "The United States are..." But after the laying down of arms in Chancellorsville, we now say: "The United States is..." Over half of a million fallen, rest in the bosom of our beloved homeland; they gave us the great legacy of one nation, one union. As President Abraham Lincoln put it so perfectly: "They gave the last full measure of devotion." The WAR OF REBELLION as Lincoln referred to the Civil War produced military casualties of 625,000 [both north and south].
The SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR saw yet more Americans fighting and giving their last full measure in retaining the expanse of our nation. This war saw 2,446 military casualties.
WORLD WAR I witnessed a large commitment of Americans fighting overseas on the European continent. Many never to come home again. Fields where our soldiers shed their blood, are now also the final earthly resting place for our beloved 'Dough-boys.' Places such as Cantigny, the Argonne Forest and the hauntingly peaceful Flanders Field with waving poppy flowers are their earthly resting place. These are but a few sacred places forever etched in our national memory. No longer, were we able to physically decorate our heroes' hallowed graves at such a distance; and eventually DECORATION DAY also began to be understood as a MEMORIAL DAY. The last full measure by these Americans during World War I totaled 116,516 military souls.
WORLD WAR II saw an even larger number of American patriotic men and women fighting and dying in that continuum of patriotism in offering the last full measure. In cemeteries near the beaches of Normandy, elsewhere all over Europe and in island cemeteries across the Pacific, many thousands are resting after their heroic service and ultimate sacrifice. The fight against Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito cost us 405,399 military lives. After the war, in the mid-1940s and 1950's, observing Decoration Day was soon also becoming called Memorial Day; and by 1971, the U.S. Congress termed the day: Memorial Day as a day set aside to remember and honor American men and women who gave their lives for our nation from day one. Whereas, Armistice Day which eventually became known as Veterans Day is observed in honoring all Veterans who served our nation in the military as Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and in the Coast Guard or Air Force.
The KOREAN WAR totalled 53,686 military casualties; and the VIETNAM WAR added 58,209 to that growing muster of fallen; of which we should reverently remember, especially at this time.
How can we in good conscience forget the 43 Sailors killed aboard the USS LIBERTY in international water by the Israeli Defense Forces in their unwarranted act of war during Israel's 1968 Six-Day-War? Nor should we forget the USS PUEBLO'S lone Sailor killed by the North Koreans in their 1969 illegal seizure. Many of the USS PUEBLO crew are still alive today; they were tortured beyond our western civilized way of thinking by those North Korean savages.
In more recent history, our Marines' lives were sacrificed in their own barracks in Lebanon. Americans have fought and died in PANAMA, GRENADA, SOMALIA, KOSOVO. We remember also those whose lives were sacrificed in the KHOBAR TOWERS in Saudi Arabia, the USS COLE, in Yemen, the PENTAGON on 9-11; and since then, most recently, our troops in uniform slaughtered by bloodthirsty, Islamicist jihad radicals in Missouri and Texas.
This Memorial Day we should pay special tribute to those fallen in recent time: our siblings, children and grandchildren in AFGHANISTAN with 1,413 military casualties, and IRAQ with 4,430 military casualties.
From the very first American farmer/soldier who gave his life during the REVOLUTIONARY WAR for our cause in Lexington, Massachusetts to the most recent soldiers who gave their "Last Full Measure" in IRAQ including two soldiers on May 18th, and AFGHANISTAN where one soldier gave his life for us in Kandahar on May 22nd. We should salute all our fallen heroes in humbled awe.
The English philosopher and author, G. K. Chesterton, explains military effort and sacrifice this way: "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."
Let us, this year, as Memorial Day is observed, remember, honor and decorate with highest respect, these departed defenders and protectors of our way of life. Besides the ballgames, picnics, outdoor barbecues and outings, we should set a little time aside for a heartfelt whisper and prayer to our fallen American brothers and sisters by saying: "We honor you in giving your 'last full measure' of devotion for us; and moreover, we ask the guidance of Divine Providence that our nation remains strong and true to its founding principles for which you gave your service and your life. Your memory is the purest and truest decoration in our nation's history."
Additionally on Memorial Day, it's also fitting to recall what Jesus of Nazareth told us, as it is written in the Holy Bible: "No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friends."
[*] For a full count, of "the last full measure," of U.S. military battle casualties and wounded in all U.S. wars, both declared, undeclared, skirmishes, and incidences, check: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war or google U.S. War Casualties.