As you know, Memorial Day’s roots were planted after America’s Civil War. Nearly every community in America suffered the loss of young men during that conflict. In some communities, citizens began decorating the gravestones of their fallen loved ones. Former Union General John A. Logan, who led an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, was so touched by these scenes that he called for a nationwide day of remembrance. He issued a declaration that stated: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Logan didn’t call this day Memorial Day, he called it Decoration Day, as a reminder of the activities he wanted to see take place on that day.
Although some southern cities, like communities in the north, had begun decorating graves, most southern states didn’t look kindly on a day that they perceived as one primarily dedicated to honoring the Union dead (i.e., those “who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion”). That didn’t stop them from honoring their dead; southerners simply honored them on other days. As the years passed and the wounds of the civil war healed, war dead from both sides were often honored in the same ceremony. It wasn’t until after the First World War, however, that southern states adopted what was by then designated Memorial Day as the day to honor their fallen heroes along with the rest of the nation.
Unfortunately, other wars have followed the Civil War and First World War and the dead from each of those conflicts have joined the roll call of those who have offered the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Most of us, however, no longer find ourselves in cemeteries decorating graves on Memorial Day. We are at the beach, on the golf course, or having a barbecue in the backyard. President Bill Clinton was concerned that too many Americans had forgotten the purpose of Memorial Day and he recommended that Americans participate in a National Moment of Remembrance. At 3 pm local, he recommended that you “pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday … honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values.”
You have perhaps never heard of this activity, but it has been observed for over a dozen years. Deseret News Columnist Joseph Walker writes, “Major League Baseball games come to a brief stop. Amtrak train whistles sound wherever they are. Tourists at the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and elsewhere are asked to pause for a moment of silent reflection.” I think the National Moment of Remembrance sounds like a wonderful idea. A wave of silent tribute sweeping across the land broken only by the haunting sound of train whistles. If you pause today at 3pm to honor America’s fallen heroes, remember also that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are serving at this very hour in foreign countries where their lives are at risk. Say a prayer for those who still serve along with those who have died.