MRFF Advisory Board Member John Compere’s Op-Ed: “The Meaning Of Memorial Day”


Memorial Day is our national holiday for remembering and revering the patriotic men and women who gave their lives in the military service of our country to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today as Americans. According to a past Gallup poll, a majority of Americans do not know the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day, formally established by the National Holiday Act of 1971, memorializes those military members who died serving our country. It is always observed on the last Monday of May (May 27th this year) and traditionally begins the summer vacation season. It should not be confused with Veterans Day (November 11th) honoring those living and deceased veterans who served in our military nor Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May) recognizing those serving in our military.

The genesis of this meaningful memorial for our military members who made the supreme sacrifice was begun by American women of the South and North during and after the Civil War who decorated the graves of all fallen soldiers with flowers in respectful remembrance.

Beginning with 8 citizen-soldiers who fell near Lexington, Virginia at the start of the American Revolution, more than 1,354,664 military members have perished defending our country and over 40,031 remain missing in action. This ultimate sacrifice is still being made today by brave military men and women serving in the prolonged war on terrorism. There will be more as long as we homo sapiens remain a warring species.

Philosopher Plato wisely warned “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.

Audie Murphy (Texan, most decorated World War II soldier, western movie actor, 1924-1971) poetically penned

“So long my comrades….
…..You strong men, good men
Endowed with youth and much the will to live.
I hear no protests from the mute lips of the dead.
They rest: there is no more to give.”

The National Memorial Day Concert is held on the Capitol lawn in Washington. Patriotic parades, ceremonies and events occur throughout the country. A wreath is ceremonially placed by the President on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The entrance displays this eulogy to those interred

“On fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with sudden round,
The bivouac of the dead.”
(American poet & military veteran Theodore O’Hara, 1820-1867)

For Memorial Day, the American flag is customarily raised to the top of the staff in the morning and lowered to half-staff until noon when it is raised back to full staff for the rest of the day. Lowering the flag to half-staff represents remembrance of those fallen. Return to full staff symbolizes their memory being raised by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up for them and continue the fight for liberty and justice.

An American tradition observed during the Memorial Day weekend is the placing of coins on gravestones of deceased military who gave their lives serving our country. The concept of coins for the deceased originated in early Greek mythology and today is a symbolic act of respect and gratitude for their sacrifice. Coins of different denominations have distinct meanings (Penny – you knew and respected the deceased, Nickel – you and the deceased attended basic training together, Dime – you and the deceased served together, or Quarter – you were present when the deceased was killed).

Military veterans of the Vietnam War established a different but related tradition regarding coins. Change of any denomination can be left at the grave of a deceased military comrade as the “down-payment” on a promise to buy him or her a drink when you meet in the afterlife.

The National Moment of Remembrance Act of 2000 requests that we pause at 3 pm on Memorial Day for one minute as an act of national unity to remember America’s fallen military heroes.

Wherever you may be this Memorial Day, please pause for a moment to reverently remember with patriotic pride and genuine gratitude our brave military men and women who sacrificed their precious lives for our cherished liberties.

“You silent tents of green,
We deck with fragrant flowers,
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.”
(American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882)

Brigadier General John Compere, US Army (Retired)
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Advisory Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Texas rancher

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