For many of us, the Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer. Across the nation, it is a weekend for barbecuing, camping and fishing. It's the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. School is out, and seniors are graduating. It's the start of the summer tourist season. Stores hold special sales to attract shoppers.
But amid our plans, we hope that we stop to remember the reason for our three-day weekend. For nearly 140 years, Americans have taken time in May to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. It is but a small gesture to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day has its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War when women gathered to mark the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. More than 25 communities across the country lay claim to the first such ceremony in the spring after war ended. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day in honor of a ceremony held there on May 5, 1866.
The first official event came in May 1868, when an organization of former Union soldiers established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to use flowers to decorate the graves of the war dead. On May 30, the first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant presided over the ceremony.
In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day an official holiday.
This year, for the third consecutive year, America finds itself at war on Memorial Day. More than 1,600 Americans have died fighting in Iraq. We should take the time to remember and honor their sacrifices. As well, we should take time to remember all those who gave their lives in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War and Afghanistan.
We should take time to remember Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton of Hayden, the first Coloradan to die fighting in Iraq. We should take the time to remember Sgt. Lewis Cullar of Mount Harris, who won a Silver Star for his heroism in World War II only to die six months later and be buried in Italy. We should take the time to remember Michael W. Dorr, a Steamboat Springs native who was gunned down by Nazis unaware that Germany had surrendered. Dorr also was awarded a Silver Star.
We should take the time to remember all of the more than 650,000 Americans who have died in foreign wars.
Vietnam veteran Jim Stanko knows how critical community support means to the Memorial Day event he helps organize in Steamboat Springs. "This is a tradition, and I can't stress it enough ... it is very important," Stanko said.
We could not agree more. Memorial Day events underscore for our veterans that their efforts are always valued, always appreciated.
At 11 a.m. Monday, a public ceremony will be held at the Steamboat Cemetery. State Sen. Jack Taylor will be the featured speaker and a luncheon will follow at the Community Center. Similarly, a Memorial Day event is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Hayden Cemetery.
Amid your activities this weekend, take the time to attend a ceremony, visit a cemetery, purchase a poppy to wear or simply give a few moments of silent thought to those who have fought and died for our freedom. They deserve nothing less.