Received the following from Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
May 25, 2013
I wish you a happy and healthy start to this Memorial Day weekend. I’d like to take a moment to explain what Memorial Day means to me.
First a little history: After the end of the Civil War, Decoration Day was established in 1868 to commemorate the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. An estimated 620,000 Americans died in this conflict, the bloodiest in our nation’s history. At the conclusion of WWI in 1919, the purpose of Decoration Day was expanded to honor all the fallen soldiers from every theater of war and some people began using the term “Memorial Day.” Remarkably, Memorial Day did not become official until President Lyndon Johnson signed the name change into law in 1967.
The history of this day is, of course, embedded in the ultimate sacrifices made by over 1.2 million American men and women since 1775. I often refer to the warning issued by General George Washington, who in the early days of our nation said our future depends on how well we treat our veterans and, in essence, how we remember the sacrifices of those who died in battle. He commanded an army that lost 25,000 lives but won freedom that we still enjoy 240 years later.
This weekend I will join close to 2,000 Boy and Girl Scouts who will place American flags at the headstones of those who fought for our defense. These scouts are keeping alive the pledge that General Washington deemed so essential in the early days of our country’s birth.
It’s easy to engage in debate over the wisdom of engaging in battle, to argue that one war was more necessary than another. After all, war is the core of history; it challenges us not to repeat mistakes, not to risk lives unless there are no other alternatives. But history is too often ignored, forgotten, overlooked.
Memorial Day for me is quite simply a time to remember those whose lives ended early on the battlefield. With few exceptions I don’t know the names of the fallen, nor the streets where they grew up, but as a mother I share the grief of their parents and their spouses.
How we remember Memorial Day will differ, but it is critical to our democracy that we do remember, that we acknowledge the meaning of the ultimate sacrifice with the same sense of purpose that we consider the importance of our democracy.
All the best,