On Memorial Day, Americans honor more than a million service members who gave their lives for their country. This is not a holiday about war, though. It is a holiday about peace.
Memorial Day originated in America’s bloodiest chapter. Historians disagree on the specifics, but it began as “Decoration Day,” a day set aside to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers, Americans all, who died in the Civil War.
The day’s popularity grew, and Congress eventually declared it a national holiday marking the sacrifice of all of the nation’s war dead, from the 4,435 who died in battle during the American Revolution to the nearly 7,000 who have perished in operations in the Middle East over the past two decades.
It is a common misconception that this is a day to honor all veterans. That is Veterans Day. There’s nothing wrong with thanking a veteran or active-duty service member any day, though.
Memorial Day is codified among nearly four dozen “Patriotic and National Observances” in the U.S. Code, listed between Mother’s Day and Loyalty Day. The latter falls on May 1, and we’re as surprised as anyone to learn that it’s a thing.
The law reads, in part, “The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace [and] designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace.”
That’s a prayer the nation could use today as we remain mired in seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East and the Trump administration rattles its saber at Iran. The president and all Americans today should remember that every war comes with great sacrifice and terrible cost.
So enjoy your cookout, your ballgame, whatever way you choose to celebrate this unofficial start of summer. But take a moment, too, to think about the brave men and women who paid the ultimate price to defend our country in the pursuit of freedom and peace.