Memorial Day — celebrated on Monday — is a day of remembrance for those who died in service to the United States of America.
It was commemorated at first to honor the Union dead of the Civil War and originally proclaimed Decoration Day by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 30, 1868.
The first state to officially recognize Memorial Day was New York, in 1873.
The South, for obvious reasons, refused to acknowledge the holiday until after World War I, when the meaning of it was changed to honor all Americans who died fighting in any war.
Meanwhile, many cities and towns across America began to celebrate the holiday.
Finally, by 1967, Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day, according to federal law.
Too many Americans think Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend. Much to the annoyance of veterans, many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day.
Although the mistake seems harmless to some, it is seen as disrespectful by those who have served, or are serving, in uniform, to those men and women who lost their lives in defense of this country.
There are many great traditions in the military.
One of the greatest is a solemn respect for anyone who made the ultimate sacrifice, especially peers and contemporaries.
From the civilian perspective, offering thanks to veterans has become very commonplace, which is appreciated by those who have served. However, there is an unannounced and informal “hierarchy” in the veteran ranks.
As a veteran who served time from 1988 to 1996, I can speak from my own personal beliefs and experiences. Although the first Gulf War was fought during my enlistment time, I spent that period in South Korea. I had difficulty being separated from my first wife and two children, but I did not spend that time fighting like those sent primarily to Saudi Arabia in preparation to liberate Kuwait.
When attending a sporting event or any occasion where people ask veterans to stand up and be recognized, we “peacetime” soldiers feel a little uncomfortable standing next to those who actually fought for our country. The feeling is multiplied if we see a “wounded warrior” standing as well. Sometime in the mid-2000s, I stopped standing during these occasions, yielding that show of respect to those who were actually under fire.
“The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”
The number of those injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has sadly increased dramatically. Combat wounded veterans garner a higher respect, even from other war fighters who were not injured. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice receive the ultimate reverence and regard from ALL veterans.
The injured and killed are awarded a special medal, the Purple Heart. It has a strong history, as this recognition is thought to be the first time military awards were given to the common soldier. The father of our country, George Washington, so respected those who fought for our republic that he established the Badge of Military Merit (the original name of the award). Until that point, only officers received these types of badges. Washington changed that because, in his words, “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”
The Badge of Military Merit was awarded for “not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way” (George Washington, General Orders, April 17, 1783).
Falling into non-use for 150 years, this badge was brought back to service as the Purple Heart after World War l. On Feb. 22, 1932, General Order Number 3 was given by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff. It read as follows: “By order of the president of the United States, the Purple Heart established by Gen. George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution, is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.”
Initially, the Purple Heart was awarded to those who received wounds in action against the enemy, as well as for meritorious performance of duty. In December 1942, it was authorized only to be awarded for wounds received.
The Purple Heart is probably the most well-known medal, except for possibly the Congressional Medal of Honor. Its distinctive shape, color and profile of Gen. George Washington make it stand out.
Those who have received the Purple Heart are extremely proud. The Military Order of the Purple Heart is an organization composed of only combat-wounded veterans. The goal of this organization is to “foster an environment of goodwill and camaraderie among combat-wounded veterans, promote patriotism, support necessary legislative initiatives and most importantly provide service to all veterans and their families.”
Part of their mission has also been to raise awareness. In 1992, they established the “Purple Heart Trail” to honor men and women who have been wounded or killed in combat. Signs are placed to mark these roads and highways.
There is also a program to have a local community designated a Purple Heart city or county. It is a very simple process, and I doubt few people would oppose it. This is an easy way to honor Purple Heart recipients in your city or town.
On Memorial Day weekend, say a prayer for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Take a minute to discuss the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day with your children — and teach your family to take part by attending a local service recognizing your town’s fallen warriors.
Feel free to thank a veteran, especially one who’s been wounded. However, please understand that on Memorial Day, that veteran is probably thinking of someone else who’s not with us anymore.
John Cylc is an eight-year U.S. Army veteran and lives with his family in eastern Tennessee. His primary advocacy is promoting and protecting Second Amendment rights. This article appeared earlier in LifeZette and has been updated.