On Memorial Day in Sandown every year, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Major shares the life of a service man or woman who died for their country. History and a sense of place are passed on through stories, Major has said. And those stories bring to life the sacrifices of the country’s military on a day that is meant to do just that.
Memorial Day – originally known as Decoration Day – was officially proclaimed and observed in 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, as a time when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Evidence of an even earlier day of remembrance comes from records of the decoration of Confederate soldiers’ graves by women’s groups in the South before the end of the Civil War. By 1890, the day was recognized by all northern states, while the South honored its dead on a separate date.
Then came World War I, and the annual event became a time of remembrance throughout the country for all who gave their lives in military service to the United States.
Many more wars have taken the lives of American servicemen and women since then. But even though we still send our troops into harm’s way, it’s easy to look at Memorial Day as merely another chance for a three-day weekend, a parade, an extra day off from work and school, a time for barbecues and mowing the lawn and planting the vegetable garden.
We suggest a different focus, and think Major has it right.
The Civil War statues that grace town commons throughout New Hampshire and the cemeteries where tiny American flags stand vigil by old graves are visual reminders that thousands of lives have been given in the name of their nation’s service – and more are at risk today. Memorial Day is a good time to think about what those familiar sites mean, and the stories behind those names on a monument.
Ceremonies in our towns on Monday will center on the cemeteries and the statues, on the flags and the wreaths.
But this Memorial Day, we encourage you to learn a little history about the lives behind those names, and think about the very real people who have made that ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who continue to stand ready to do so today. And join in working toward a time when that sacrifice will no longer be needed.