Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and dreams of vacations, picnics, and outdoor activities. We should never forget, however, that Memorial Day was founded to remember those who have fallen during conflicts both past and present. The holiday was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Each year ceremonies remembering fallen soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen are held around the world in places where they fought and died. War is a terrible thing, but sometimes necessary. It’s not the dying that makes men and women heroic; it’s their willingness to place their life on the altar of liberty. We memorialize the dead, but we honor both the living and the dead who serve the causes of freedom and justice.
America is now involved in its longest running conflict ever as the fight against the scourge of terrorism continues. As a result, citizens are keenly aware of the sacrifices service members make every day in far-away lands fighting both for our freedom and the freedom of those even more personally impacted by terrorist organizations. It is not unusual for a service member or veteran to have a total stranger say, “Thank you for your service.” That simple thought means a lot to those serving as well as those who have served. Often, however, when that expression of gratitude is offered, standing beside the service member is a spouse or a child or a parent and they receive no such recognition for their sacrifice. I urge people to continue to express their gratitude to service members and veterans but I also encourage them to go a step further and express appreciation to any spouse, child, or parent who happens to be standing with them. Service members and veterans know how challenging it is for the loved ones they leave behind when they deploy. Family members not only have to deal with the stress of knowing service members could be in harm’s way they have to make sure that relationships stay strong and that life moves forward. And, way too often, they have to deal with the devastating emotional toll that conflict wreaks on service members. Recognition of their sacrifice is just as important as thanking a veteran for his or her service.
Surviving relatives also bear the full weight of grief for service members who die while serving their country. One of the most difficult situations is for parents who have lost children during conflict; especially when the fallen child is young and unmarried. Parents of children who died during a conflict are known as Gold Star Parents. That designation can be traced to the tradition started by American Gold Star Mothers Inc., an organization formed in the United States shortly after World War I to provide support for mothers who lost sons or daughters in the war. “The name came from the custom of families of servicemen hanging a banner called a Service Flag in the window of their homes. The Service Flag had a star for each family member in the United States Armed Forces. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.” Part of the healing process is trying to keep the memory of a fallen loved one alive. This was recognized by Grace Darling Seibold, who founded the Gold Star Mothers. She lost her son, George Vaughn Seibold, during the First World War. Mrs. Seibold realized “that self-contained grief is self-destructive, [and she] devoted her time and efforts not only to working in the hospital but also to extending the hand of friendship to other mothers whose sons had lost their lives in military service. She organized a group consisting solely of these special mothers, with the purpose of not only comforting each other, but giving loving care to hospitalized veterans confined in government hospitals far from home.” Grieving for a lost child is just as important for fathers as it is for mothers. That’s why, for the past eleven years, the Marines’ Memorial Association and the Blue Star Moms have been hosting an annual Gold Star Parents Honor and Remembrance event in San Francisco.
Remembering is important; so, amid the day’s activities — the picnics, the games, the family gatherings — pause, at least for a moment, and silently honor those who serve and who have served to make this world a little better place in which to live. Remember, as Wallace Bruce wrote, those “who kept the faith and fought the fight; the glory theirs, the duty ours.” Also spare a moment to recognize the sacrifice of those who have kept (and are keeping) the home fires burning for loved ones serving overseas.
 “Gold Star Mothers Club,” Wikipedia.