Take time to honor vets on Memorial Day

Published 3:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2017

For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer – time to head to the beach, the pool or the lake and relax into a less-harried, less hectic season.

Barbecues aside, Memorial Day is more importantly a day designated to honor the memories of the men and women who lost their lives in service of our nation.

Since the 19th Century, Americans have embraced the ancient tradition of honoring those who fell in battle. In May 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of a Union veterans’ group, declared that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War.

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Here in the South, we’d already taken that sentiment to heart. Women’s groups across the South had long gathered to decorate the graves of the fallen Confederate soldiers – hence the name, Decoration Day. For more than a century, the Decoration Day services and programs honored the men and women who died in not just the Civil War, but two World Wars, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War before being made a federal holiday in 1971. Since then, we’ve honored the memories of the men and women who fought in the Gulf War, as well. All told, more than 1.1 million Americans have been killed fighting in U.S. wars.

That’s a staggering image and one often difficult for younger generations to grasp as the number of men and women serving in active duty or reserves is at historically low levels. By World War II, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the military. Now, less than 1 percent do the same.

And the memory of those brave men and women who fought in the Civil War, WWI or WWII is ancient history for many of today’s younger generations. And that’s a shame. The veterans who bravely took up arms in defense of their beliefs and our nation’s freedom were heroes, in every sense of the word. They embodied the oft-echoed refrain of “country before party” and knew that patriotism meant being willing to sacrifice, to even die, for something greater than the individual.

And their legacy should never be forgotten.

So on Monday, take a break from the pool or the barbecue and take time to attend a Memorial Day service here in Pike County. The program at Bicentennial Park in Troy begins at 11 a.m.; the programs in Brundidge begin at 9 a.m. on Veterans Parkway and at 10 a.m. at the VFW building; and the Elamville begins at the Elam Cemetery at 11 a.m. Spend a few minutes paying tribute to true heroes and appreciating the legacy and freedom they left for us.