Believe it or not, Memorial Day is not about selling automobiles or sofas. Shocking news, we know. It also is not just another holiday off from work or the same thing as Veterans Day.
At least, it shouldn't be.
Veterans Day is celebrated in November and is meant to honor all, living and dead, who have served in the armed forces.
Memorial Day is different. It is the day that a grateful nation has set aside to remember and soberly honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. For those who think about it, Memorial Day is -- as it should be -- a solemn holiday.
Originally, it was called "Decoration Day," but there is great debate about its actual origin as about two dozen cities and towns across the nation lay claim to being the birthplace of the Memorial Day.
However, that matter was settled, as a political issue at least, in May of 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
While some of the history is sketchy, we do know that the first actual proclamation was issued by Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the U.S. Army, declaring May 30, 1868 as the day when flowers were to be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
That began a somber tradition that has been expanded and remains today.
On the Thursday before Memorial Day each year since the 1950s the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- which is known more famously as "The Old Guard" or "Escort to the President" -- place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. The soldiers from the regiment then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. It is a touching action and a sobering sight, indeed.
Unfortunately, much of the nation has lost touch with this original purpose of the day, especially for those who have no close ties to the military. Pleasure, comfort and convenience have replaced honor, reverence and remembrance as the hallmarks of the day.
For many the holiday merely serves as the unofficial beginning of summer that will no doubt be filled with barbecues, picnics and family gatherings. All of those things are great, we love them too. But in the midst of the hubbub we should never forget that many, many have died so that we can enjoy the day in such pleasure, comfort and convenience.
We owe them and their families a great debt of gratitude. It seems like the least we could do is take a little time today to remember them and offer a simple thank you. Without their grandest of sacrifice, we would not be the nation we are today.