Remembering the Fallen

For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend entails grilling out, having beach parties and beginning the summer vacation season, but for many it is a somber reminder of the sacrifices of the men and women that have served the armed forces.

For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend entails grilling out, having beach parties and beginning the summer vacation season, but for many it is a somber reminder of the sacrifices of the men and women that have served the armed forces. We remember these men and women by decorating their graves with wreaths, holding parades in their honor and rendering military customs and courtesies. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Kirby Turbak)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

“I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense,” quoted from the U.S. Armed Forces Code of Conduct, Article I.

For many Americans, Memorial Day weekend entails grilling out, having beach parties and beginning the summer vacation season, but for many it is a somber reminder of the sacrifices of the men and women that have served the armed forces.

The origins of Memorial Day can be traced back to the Civil War, when Northerners and Southerners in the late 1860s would remember those lost soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and ribbons.  This later becomes known as Decoration Day, for all Americans to remember those who died in war.

On the first Decoration Day, May 30, 1868, approximately 5,000 people decorated 20,000 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Years later, Decoration Day was renamed to Memorial Day.

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and the date of which it is celebrated was shifted to the fourth Monday in May, giving federal workers a three-day weekend. But this holiday should not be simply thought as a Monday off.

“When celebrating Memorial Day, remember what they did and be thankful” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Nephi Marston, 39th Air Base Wing honor guard member. “Without their blood, sweat and tears we could not enjoy the luxuries we have today. We couldn’t sit back and relax on a Monday and have barbeques.”

Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.1 million service members have died while serving their country. We remember these men and women by decorating their graves with wreaths, holding parades in their honor and rendering military customs and courtesies.

Every Memorial Day, the President of the United States and military leaders from every branch join together at Arlington National Cemetery to hold a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Visitors of Arlington National Cemetery can also experience the “Flags In” event where service members place flags in front of approximately 220,000 headstones.

“On Memorial Day all flag poles should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, then at noon they should be raised to the top of the staff until sunset,” said Marston. “There are many ways to celebrate Memorial Day, but you can still grill out and have a drink in their honor.”