Memorial Day is a special day, a day to reminisce, a time to mourn, and an occasion to praise the men and women that fought and died for our hard-earned freedoms. Originally dubbed Decoration Day to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War, the term ‘Memorial Day’ as we now know it was first used in 1882. Even more common after WWII, the expression became official by Federal law in 1967.
Americans should contemplate the true cost of freedom on Memorial Day. Unlike Veterans Day to honor all veterans that served our country, Memorial Day honors the valiant ones who ‘didn’t come home.’ Simply put; the phrase ‘didn’t come home’ means killed or missing in action.
As brusque as that statement may sound, bluntness may be what this country needs. We take our freedoms, our faiths, and our futures too much for granted. Perhaps a visual tour could offer a better insight.
The Mexican-American War of 1847 left American dead on the field of battle. Many were not buried; others were buried but in mass graves and not properly identified.
The bloodbath called The Great War, later to be recognized as WWI, was touted as ‘the war to end all wars.’ It accomplished no such thing. The battlefield casualties were horrific, unnecessary, and a marvelous example of how not to fight a war.
Many of the frontal assaults were no more sensible than the Japanese ‘banzai’ suicidal charges of World War Two. Antiquated tactics crafted by antiquated military thinkers bled the life out of an entire generation of British, French, German, Belgian, Austrian, Serbian, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Australian and New Zealand soldiers. American losses were not as critical due to our late entry into the Great War, but serious enough. Approximately 117,500 American doughboys died in the ‘war to end all wars.’
Confined to a wheelchair, Mary Lee, the wife of General Robert E. Lee, sent a representative to pay a $92.07 tax bill instead of personally doing so. The Federal Government, already a tad irritated that her husband had turned down command of the Union army to command the Army of Virginia, used the incident as an excuse to officially seize her family property in 1864. Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery Meigs proposed the land be used as a national cemetery.
On May 13, 1842, Private William Christman, a 21-year-old soldier from Pennsylvania, who died of peritonitis, became the first military soldier buried at Arlington National Cemetery. To ensure Robert and Mary Lee would never inhabit the home again, Meigs ordered graves dug as close to the house as possible. A vault was placed in the Lee’s rose garden in which the remains of 2,111 unknown Union soldiers now rest.
Although Arlington National Cemetery found its origins during the Civil War, it is presently the only national cemetery holding the remains of those who fought in every war since the Revolution. Early remains had been disinterred to be reinterred in Arlington. Incredibly, three enemy combatants from WWII are also interred at Arlington, 1 German and 2 Italians, POWs who died in captivity near Washington, DC. The soldiers were buried in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.