Forward thinking: Why Memorial Day matters in 2019

Loren Simmonds

At this time of year, Americans kick off their summers, holiday weekend, vacations and barbecues. However, it is good to pause and remember our countrymen who have answered the call to serve, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  

On May 29, 2004, the United States dedicated the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which pays tribute to all Americans who served in history’s most terrible war. Inscribed near a wall honoring those who gave their lives in World War II is a simple statement from then President Harry S. Truman:

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”

Today, the last Monday of May, our great nation honors those Americans who gave their lives in military service. We refer to this as Memorial Day. This holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored soldiers who had died during the Civil War from 1861–65. Immediately after the war, various towns in the North and South began to set aside days to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags.

The earliest memorial observances occurred in Waterloo, New York; Columbus, Mississippi; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois and Boalsburg, Pennsylvania to name but a few.

The first widespread observance of Decoration Day came on May 30, 1868, which Maj. Gen. John A. Logan proclaimed as a day to honor the dead.

Gen. James Garfield (later the 20th U.S. president) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in remembrances of fallen soldiers, saying “for love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” Afterward, an estimated 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Over the years, the day became an occasion to remember the dead in all American wars, and came to be known as Memorial Day.  

Today, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, in a tradition known as “Flags-in,” the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small flags before more than a quarter million gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol twenty-four hours a day to make sure each flag remains standing throughout the weekend.

On Memorial Day, the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cemetery.

According to the U.S. flag code, American flags should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the pole. At 3 p.m. local time, all Americans are asked to pause for a moment of remembrance.

With the foregoing in mind, I would close by encouraging you, the reader, to attend the local Memorial Day Service in Lynnwood on Monday, May 27, at 11 a.m.  The service will be held at the Veterans Park located at the intersection of 44th Avenue West and 194th Street Southwest (across the street from the Lynnwood Police Station). It is the right thing to do.

Until next time…

— By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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