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Remembering America’s Fallen This Memorial Day


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Heritage Foundation

Many Americans today cannot explain the origins or reasons why we commemorate Memorial Day, though they know it involves a long weekend and hot dogs.

The significance of the national holiday is lost amid the distractions of daily life. It’s often associated more with barbecues, swimming pool openings, and summer weather than any deeper meaning.

But Memorial Day is far more important and significant than that. It is a holiday dedicated to fallen members of America’s armed forces, a day to remember their sacrifice.

This year marks the 154th anniversary of the first Memorial Day remembrance, when Rep. James Garfield, R-Ohio, a Civil War general and future president, began the national tradition.


Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in the Civil War. About 5,000 people helped decorate the 20,000 graves of the soldiers buried there.

Before this observance, the day was called Decoration Day because of the practice of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers and flags.

Nowadays, the president of the United States usually gives an address at Arlington, accompanied by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A similar ceremony takes place in thousands of cemeteries and at other gatherings nationwide. The practice of decorating the graves of fallen service members continues. It is an opportunity for Americans to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Some confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day, and not everyone is clear on the difference. Veterans Day focuses on military veterans who have served our country, whether in war or peace. Veterans Day is a day to thank them for their service and the sacrifices made by them and their families.

Memorial Day, by contrast, focuses on the men and women in our military who never made it back home to their families.:snip:

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Five Commanders to Honor This Memorial Day

On May 31, 1982, President Ronald Reagan looked out at his Memorial Day audience assembled at Arlington National Cemetery. “I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country,” he admitted, adding that “the willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery.”

Thirty-four years later, President Barack Obama came to the same place to talk about the same wondrous sacrifice. “The Americans who rest here, and their families — the best of us, those from whom we asked everything — ask of us today only one thing in return: that we remember them,” he said, observing that among those worthy of memorializing are “generals buried beside privates they led.”

In that spirit, here are the stories of five military commanders — four generals and an admiral — whose lives of service and deaths in the call of duty merit our attention on this Memorial Day.:snip:


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