Memorial Day is for Remembrance

Memorial Day is our national holiday for reverently remembering 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. A past Gallup poll revealed many Americans do not know its real meaning.

Memorial Day, officially established by the National Holiday Act of 1971, memorializes our brave military members who died serving this country. It is observed on the last Monday of May (May 25th this year) and normally begins the summer vacation season.

Also, 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.

Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day (November 11th) honoring those living and deceased veterans who honorably served in our military for any length of time and are no longer serving nor Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May) recognizing those men and women currently serving in our military.

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

The first revolutionary fatality was Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore, killed during the Boston Massacre in 1770. Eight citizen-soldiers fell near Lexington, Massachusetts in 1775 during hostilities at the start of the American Revolution. More than 1,355,000 of our military members have now perished defending this country and over 40,000 remain missing in action. This ultimate sacrifice is still being made today by our brave military men and women serving in the prolonged war on terrorism. There will be more as long as we humans remain a warring species.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war”  was pointedly proclaimed by Philosopher Plato (4th Century BCE)

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.”

During normal years, patriotic parades, ceremonies and events occur throughout the country, and the National Memorial Day Concert is held on the Capitol lawn. A ceremonial wreath is also placed by the President on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery whose original entrance displays this inscription 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.”
– Theodore O’Hara
(American poet & military veteran, 1820-1867)

On Memorial Day, the American flag is traditionally 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 and continue the fight for liberty and justice.

An American tradition observed during the Memorial Day weekend is the placing of coins on graves of deceased military who sacrificed their lives serving our country. The concept of coins for the deceased originated in ancient Greek mythology and today is a symbolic act of respect for them and gratitude for their sacrifice. Coins of different denominations have distinct meanings (Penny – you knew 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).

Vietnam War veterans established a different but related coin tradition. 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.

Wherever you may be this Memorial Day during the perilous pandemic, please pause for a moment at 3 pm to respectfully remember with patriotic pride and genuine gratitude our brave military men and women who sacrificed their lives for our American liberties.

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

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


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  1. Infidel

    Only those who were born again believers in Christ will meet in the afterlife. All the others face eternal punishment for their sins.

  2. Grey One talks sass

    See Infidel I have a problem with your sadistic view of the afterlife. All of creation, the marvels of the universe are reduced to school yard bullying because you have a fetish for seeing people you disagree with burn in a lake of fire.

    No one ‘knows’ what happens to the essence of ourselves after our bodies stop working. Anyone who claims to have that knowledge is selling something. What are you trying to sell Infidel?

  3. Marian L Shatto

    First, thank you, Brigadier General John Compere, for this thoughtful and meaningful reflection on Memorial Day. Two of my high school classmates died while serving, though neither of them directly in battle. And the brother of a good friend of mine was killed in Viet Nam while protecting others in his unit. May humanity soon find the wisdom to settle our differences without slaughtering each other.

    Second, as a believing Christian and a supporter of MRFF, I denounce the cruelty in “Infidel’s” comment. That is not the Gospel~Good News that Jesus taught. Your perverse insults to those who are today remembered have no place here.

  4. G

    Infidel, what about the people who belong to about 3,000 different faiths? If God didn’t want competition, he should have never let those denominations exist.

    These service people have died for nothing considering the fact that we still have conflicts and tensions between declining powers and rising powers since the end of World War II.

  5. Paula

    You know, “Infidel,” your remark about everyone’s belief system (that it must match yours exactly or some eternal door will be slammed in our dead faces) is nothing more than you pissing on the campfire of human love and mutual respect. When you arrive at the end of your mortal life, it might do you good to reflect on what evil you have worked, what ugliness you have perpetuated, and how much good you could have done with a joyful spirit. What a waste….

  6. Infidel

    Paula and Grey One,
    Jesus Himself said and I quote Him, no man comes to the Father (has eternity in heaven) unless they come through me! That is why Christ came to die for our sins and sins of all mankind by taking out punishment upon Him on a cross so that we would not have to face an eternity in hell. However, He will never force anyone to accept Him and His free gift of eternal life, but the consequences for rejecting Him is an eternity apart from Him in the lake of fire – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through His Son.” God never sends anyone to hell, we choose to go there.

  7. G

    Funny Infidel, I thought that we had to go through the priests, bishops, cardinals, and St. Peter at the pearly gates before we meet God.

    If God never force anyone to accept him, then we shouldn’t have to be sent to hell for not accepting him. We shouldn’t have to pay for God’s mistake in giving us free will. Besides, if someone goes to hell, wasn’t it part of God’s plan to send that person to Hades, since it was pre-destined?

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