As we celebrate Memorial Day, barbecues and the start of summer, let us take a moment to remember the true meaning of this day and those who gave their lives for our enduring freedom.
This is a day when we honor our military and our fallen heroes—brave men and women who fought and died so all of us can enjoy the freedom we too often take for granted.
The world has changed dramatically in recent years, but Americans in uniform are still on duty doing all they can to preserve peace in the world.
Of the 2.15 million men and women on active duty, more than 165,000 are stationed in some 160 countries on all seven continents doing what no other country is willing to do, including many in perilous places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Niger.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was set aside to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. On the first Decoration Day, in 1868, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. A copy of his remarks are attached below.
Our nation has paid a steep price for the freedoms we enjoy.
Roughly 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, making it the deadliest war in American history. Casualties of U.S.-involved conflicts include:
•World War I—116,516 American lives lost
•World War II—405,399
•Operation Desert Shield/Storm—383
•Operation Iraqi Freedom—4,411
•Operation New Dawn—73
•Operation Enduring Freedom—2,346
•Operation Freedom’s Sentinel—69, as of May 2019
•Operation Inherent Resolve—76, as of May 2019
The names of some of those operations may be unfamiliar to you, but the meaning of the casualty figures becomes clear when you know:
•Operation New Dawn applies to the fighting in Iraq 2010-11.
•Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name for the Global War on Terrorism, including operations in Afghanistan since 2001.
•Operation Freedom’s Sentinel applies to the special military operations in Afghanistan targeting Al Qaeda leadership and infrastructure supported by the Taliban, 2001-present.
•Operation Inherent Resolve is the operational name for the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Red poppies are often worn on Memorial Day. They are known as a symbol of remembrance, and it's a tradition to wear them to honor those who died in war.
Since the late 1950s on the Thursday just before Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. A 24-hour patrol is conducted every day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Permit us to wish you a great Memorial Day. As we spend time with family and friends enjoying the great outdoors and warm weather, let us never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much so we could enjoy this holiday, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.
On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind.
As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home,
We leave no veteran behind.
—Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois
May 30, 1868
Arlington National Cemetery
Commemoration of the first “Decoration Day”
James A. Garfield
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion.
If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.
“With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens.
“For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.
“For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.”
Robert L. Dilenschneider is founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The former CEO of Hill and Knowlton, Inc., he is also author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling “Power and Influence.”