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It’s your duty to pay solemn respects on Memorial Day: Editorial

Posted 5/24/17

“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.” — Joseph Rodman Drake, in his poem “To the Defenders of …

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It’s your duty to pay solemn respects on Memorial Day: Editorial


“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.”Joseph Rodman Drake, in his poem “To the Defenders of New Orleans,” 1815.

Memorial Day honors all Americans who died while in military service.

The total number of deaths is difficult to calculate. However, more than 1.1 million members of U.S. armed forces have died during all U.S. wars. That doesn’t take into account all the others who died during our periods of “peace.”

Please don’t take Monday for granted. Pay your respects. It’s your duty.

That doesn’t mean you can’t grill out, go shopping or take in a ballgame. These fighting Americans gave their lives to help ensure we can carry out these pastimes under a banner of freedom.

You might not know anyone who died in our armed forces. But they have earned your respect nonetheless, and you should honor them. A good way to do that is to attend Middletown’s festivities. Find out the details on today’s front page.

We want to offer a quick tip of the cap to Tom Menear of the Middletown Sons of American Legion, who worked to spruce up a Civil War cannon and a World War II cannon in Middletown Cemetery in time for the holiday. But we also thank everyone involved in making Middletown’s Memorial Day festivities a success — and, of course, a thanks to all of you who have served.

It is fitting that our deadliest conflict — the Civil War — gave rise to the origins of the solemn day. Almost 500,000 of our troops died in that conflict. In comparison, about 400,000 died in World War II. Of course, nearly every soldier killed during the Civil War was an American.

Decoration Day started in 1868, soon after the end of the Civil War. Americans decorated the graves of soldiers killed during the war. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, claims it is the birthplace of Memorial Day, because three women started decorating soldiers’ graves in 1864. However, several other cities also claim to be the first.

It was in 1868 that Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic called for the first major observance. Gen. James Garfield, who later would become president, made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery, according to history.com.

It would take more than a century, however, for Memorial Day to become a federal holiday — in 1971, as the Vietnam War was at its peak.

The members of the U.S. armed forces fighting in that war in southeast Asia came home to protests and a general lack of support, as many people opposed the war. Never mind that it wasn’t their idea to go there and fight, it was the decision of our government. Some Americans couldn’t separate that fact.

Of course, many of their fellow members of the armed forces didn’t come home at all. Almost 60,000 members of our armed forces died in the conflict.

Our battles now are not like those in Vietnam. We are in a global fight against terror, and our battlefields are everywhere, from rock concerts in Manchester, England to the finish line at the Boston Marathon to data stored on our computers.

But that doesn’t diminish what our armed forces have done and continue to do for us.

We will always have a need for Memorial Day, because brave members of our armed forces will continue to die so that we may live.

For that, we give our solemn thank you.

We will remember and honor you on Monday. It’s the very least we can do.