In the spring of 1865, the U.S. Civil War ended with a devastating loss for America — more lives were claimed than any other conflict in U.S. history.
In an effort to remember those who had fallen, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for northern Civil War veterans, said, “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.”
Decoration Day, coined from Logan’s speech, continued on and evolved as World War I and II resolved, and the number of brave men and women who died in defense of our nation rose.
As years went by, and Decoration Day continued to be observed, a federal holiday was born. Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968, and in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday, recognized every year on the last Monday of May.
On Memorial Day, American citizens honor and remember those lost in conflict by visiting grave sites, attending ceremonial parades and tribute concerts, and performing a moment of silence. This year, Department of Defense employees from across the country showed remembrance, to include members of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, and the U.S. Air Force Band.
“Memorial Day gives Americans an opportunity to remember all our fallen pioneers from all branches of the military,” said Senior Master Sgt. Philip Krzywicki, U.S. Air Force Band’s Concert Band French horn player.
One way the band facilitates remembering lost service members is through performances like the 2019 National Memorial Day Choral Festival at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C. on May 26.
“I enjoyed performing in this event,” said Krzywicki. “It’s a stirring program meant to inspire viewers and honor our national heroes on this holiday.”
Among the performers were singers from choirs all around the country. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, the sole survivor of his U.S. Army platoon during the first invasion on D-Day in Normandy, France, conducted two pieces during the show.
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., the final resting place for many veterans lost at home and abroad, plays a major role in Memorial Day. Logan’s speech calling for Decoration Day was first given at this historical burial ground.
Airman 1st Class Victor G. Li, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman, gave his reflections on what Memorial Day means to him, as a citizen of the United States and as a guardsman for Arlington National Cemetery.
“I immigrated to the United States at age 16,” said Li. “I am very proud to serve the country, which was able to open its doors to my family and I during a harsh time — due to the men and women who fell protecting it.”
“Now every time I go out on a mission at Arlington, I regard it as a personal memorial day. I get to honor those who proved their devotion and dedicated themselves to this country by proudly representing every member of the armed forces,” Li said. Senior Airman Joron Foster, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman, marched in the 2019 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington on May 27.
“Our day to day job is to pay respects to Air Force enlistees and officers. On Memorial Day, we get to represent a lot more,” said Foster.
Approximately 1.3 million service members paid the ultimate price for the welfare of America.
In our nation’s capital, we pay tribute to those fallen brothers and sisters through memorials, heavily visited on Memorial Day.
On one of these monuments, The Korean War Veterans Memorial, is a plaque inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
The quote draws a parallel to current U.S. citizens, who live in a country liberated by men and women they do not know. Those war heroes did not get the opportunity to grow old with their country. They did not witness the payoff for their sacrifices.
The writer is a senior airman in the 11th Wing Public Affairs office.