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“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” - Thucydides
Memorial Day (formerly called Decoration Day) honors U.S. soldiers who died in military service for their country. It was first enacted to honor the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War, and was expanded following World War I to include all fallen soldiers.
Here is a list of American military war deaths from the Civil War forward.
Civil War (1861-1865) - 623,026
Indian Wars (1865-1898) - 919
Spanish-American War (1898) - 2,446
Phillipine War (1898-1902) - 4,196
Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901) - 37
Mexican Revolution (1914-1919) - 35
Haiti Occupation (1915-1934) - 146
World War 1 (1917-1918) - 116,708
World War 2 (1941-1945) - 407,316
Korean War (1950-1953) - 36,914
Vietnam War (1964-1973) - 58,169
El Salvador (1980-1992) - 20
Beirut (1982-1984) - 266
Persian Gulf Support (1987-1988) - 39
Invasion of Grenada (1983) - 19
Invasion of Panama (1989) - 40
Gulf War (1991) - 269
Somalia (1992-1993) - 43
Bosnia 1995 - 12
Afghanistan (2002-2009) - 686+
Iraqi (2003-2009) - 4,299+
General Orders 11, which established the holiday, asked that the graves of our fallen heroes be decorated and kept in pristine condition, so we would not forget the sacrifices our soldiers have made for this nation (there was nothing in there about having cookouts in your backyard). Here is a portion of General Orders 11:
"We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."
As George Washington once famously said, "freedom is not free." To all those who keep us free, who keep us safe, and especially to those who paid the ultimate price for this country, we salute you.
Rest in peace, dad.