One Man’s Opinion: The Incredibly High Price of Freedom

Millions of Americans just spent a relaxing or enjoyable weekend, welcoming summer, wrapping up the school year and graduation ceremonies, and heading out on long weekend mini-trips and even stay-cations, firing up the barbecue, opening up their community pool...or simply tossing back a few with family and friends. But this extended holiday weekend also contains one of our nation’s most sacred and somber remembrances, and that should never be forgotten. Memorial Day is much more than just a hangover Monday following the first long weekend of summer, it’s the official day of recognition, pause and reflection as well as for saluting the sacrifice and memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our many freedoms as Americans.

Our nation’s first Memorial Day was April 25, 1866, when Confederate war widows organized remembrance ceremonies in Columbus, Georgia, and Columbus, Mississippi. The two southern towns still wrestle with whose commemoration came first, but whichever way you slice it, it was the ‘losing side’ during America’s Civil War which began the practice of giving thanks, pause, and remembrance for those lives lost, during what was then (and still remains) America’s bloodiest conflict and the largest loss of life.

Our Union side would later begin a national day of remembrance, called Decoration Day. It would not be until 1968 that Congress would officially move Memorial Day, along with four other national holidays from their traditional dates of observance to four calendar-fixed Mondays. Memorial Day opens up summer on the last Monday in May.

Armed Forces Week begins the second Saturday in May, and Armed Forces Day is officially the third Saturday, celebrating all active duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force and related special forces. May is also officially Military Appreciation Month.

Yet somewhere, in this shuffle, some of these patriotic and sacred remembrance holidays have somewhat lost their focus/reason for being as they have become somewhat blended in with other occasions and holidays like Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, or Valentine’s Day... with Memorial Day weekends becoming better known for barbecues and brews than moments of remembrance and reflection.

Congress passed the National Remembrance Act in 2000, asking all Americans to pause and reflect at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, this year Monday, May 27th. The federal statute also calls for flying all flags at half-mast from dawn until after 3 p.m., and then after Memorial Day commemoration services, returning all flags to full staff. Along with a silent salute, this seems a very small price to pay, in recognition of the many who, along with their families, paid the ultimate price.

Also consider, with your children, or grandchildren, or perhaps friends and family, visiting a Veteran’s Memorial or cemetery to underscore the importance and high price paid for our many freedoms. Here in Georgia, there are multiple parks and monuments dedicated to Veterans as well as Veteran Cemeteries, with perhaps none being more visually impactful than the Andersonville National Historic Site in southwest, Georgia where 13,000 primarily Union Prisoners of War died while in captivity during the Civil War at what was then called Fort Sumter. Thousands of small nameless crosses blanket the landscape with graves covering much of the 515-acre park and monument, where more than 45,000 Union soldiers were held captive during the Civil War. Modern war era veterans continue to be buried there with honors as well.

Much more recently, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association Foundation produced a documentary telling the story of the enduring legacies of the Vietnam War and survivors of that era and conflict. Unlike most returning veterans of prior and post Vietnam era conflicts, those veterans returned to face in many ways a hostile American public. Those stories and others are shared in a compelling documentary, available on YouTube entitled, “Truths & Myths of the Vietnam War”:

So enjoy this long holiday weekend with your friends and family, and related travels...but please also give a somber moment of pause for this cause of recognition and remembrance, whether with a silent salute, attending a Memorial service, visiting a monument or cemetery or sitting down to view a movie or documentary paying homage to those who previously gave their’s the least we can do for those who gave so much for the liberty and freedoms enjoyed by all the rest of us.

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