In the town squares and commons and historic cemeteries of New Hampshire, the statue of a Civil War soldier is a sight often taken for granted. But a vestige of that war remains part of our lives today, as we mark the occasion of Memorial Day this coming Monday.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed and observed 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, originally called Decoration 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 focus on remembrance throughout the country for all who gave their lives in military service to the United States. It’s even more poignant this year, as a Derry man died this month while in military service stateside.
Many more wars have taken the lives of American servicemen and women since those early days, including the current war in Afghanistan. But even with the present-day fighting, it’s easy to look at Memorial Day as just 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 flower garden.
We suggest a different focus. Those Civil War statues, and the old cemeteries where tiny American flags stand vigil by graves, are visual reminders that thousands of lives have been given in the name of their nation’s service – and more are at risk today. Memorial Day is a good time to think about what those familiar objects represent.
Ceremonies in our towns will center on the cemeteries and the statues, on the flags and the wreaths. This Memorial Day, we encourage you to take time from your busy lives and your extra day of leisure to remember, and to thank those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who stand ready to do so today. And let us hope that sacrifice will someday no longer be necessary.