This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, one of the most divisive periods in our history. For those of us alive at that time, we remember a country divided.
On Monday we mark Memorial Day, which began in the aftermath of another divisive war, the American Civil War, which in some instances literally pitted brother against brother.
Every Memorial Day in Sandown, Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Kevin Major shares the life of someone who died for their country. History and a sense of place are passed on through stories, Major has said, and those stories bring to life the sacrifices of the country’s military on a day that is meant to do just that.
This year his story will be about a local man who lost his life in the Vietnam War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, as a time when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Evidence of an even earlier day of remembrance comes from records of the decoration of Confederate soldiers’ graves by women’s groups in the South before the end of the Civil War. By 1890, the day was recognized by all northern states, while the South honored its dead on a separate date.
Then came World War I, and the day changed to a time of remembrance throughout the country for all who gave their lives in military service to the United States.
Many more wars have taken the lives of American servicemen and women since then, including the current fighting in the Middle East. But even though we know our military continues to serve in the line of fire abroad, it’s easy to look at Memorial Day as merely another chance for a three-day weekend, an extra day off from work and school, a time for barbecues and mowing the lawn and planting the garden.
We suggest a different focus.
The Civil War statues, and the cemeteries where tiny American flags stand vigil, are visual reminders that thousands of lives have been given in the name of their nation.
Ceremonies in towns across New Hampshire on Monday will center on the symbols, but we encourage you to remember the men and women represented by those symbols, real people who made the ultimate sacrifice. And to join in working toward a time when that sacrifice will no longer be needed.