"Memorial Day....then & now" (May2018)

Memorial Day….then and now!

It is Memorial Day 2018, in cemeteries across the country flags will flutter, flowers will grace the graves of the departed, and bugles will sound the mournful notes of Taps. The crowds paying tribute, however, are growing sparse.
Begun as a way to honor Civil war dead, the commemoration was long called Decoration Day from the practice of decorating graves. The observance was held on May 30th no matter the day of the week. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May. Now firmly ingrained as the traditional start of the summer season, the solemn reasons behind the day have faded despite the continuing sacrifices of so many . Seventy-three years ago, it was very different. Memorial Day 1945 marked an uneasy time of mixed emotions. there was celebration, remembrance, and dread. World War II in Europe was over by three weeks and no more battle casualties would join the rows of crosses planted from North Africa to the beaches of Normandy and across France to Germany. But the war in the Pacific still raged.
In the far Pacific, forces led by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz battled to wrap up the invasion of Okinawa, a long and bloody struggle that cost the lives of more than 12,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines. In the Pacific that year, Memorial Day observances were particularly solemn. Fresh graves were decorated in cemeteries with names largely unknown a year earlier: Saipan, Peleliu, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In the United States, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt intended to pay a quiet visit to her husband Franklin's fresh grave at Hyde Park, but found instead an overflowing crowd of well-wishers. President Truman sent a message to a "Salute to the GI's of the United Nations" rally in Madison Square Garden. The new president emphasized the four essential human freedoms long articulated by Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
On the West Coast, ports and shipyards continued to fill supply lines with men and material in anticipation of bitter and costly invasions to come. Yet, there was also the anticipation of hordes of returning servicemen. On that Memorial Day, seventy-three years ago - a day one newspaper called "a day of dedication" - there was indeed hope that battlefields would become relics of the past. Such has not been the case. No one foresaw then the places American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, as well as coast guard personnel, firefighters, and law enforcement officers, would be required to make a stand. To the World War II names would be added Chosin Reservoir in Korea, Khe Sanh and Pleiku in Vietnam, Kirkuk in Iraq, the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan, the World Trade Center and a thousand others at home and around the world.
On this Memorial day, we honor the sacrifices of prior generations. We honor the sacrifices of men and women next door who served or continue to serve our country. And we pledge never to forget the true meaning of Memorial Day. We would not have the privilege of celebrating this day and honoring so many memories without the sacrifices of those who gave their last full measure of devotion.