*This article originally appeared on Rachael M Colby’s website TattooItOnYourHeart.com and on her Cape Cod Times blog by the same name.
“I joined the military because I’m answering my calling,” said the first young United States Army serviceman I interviewed.
“I am concerned that we are divided. Realize what we as a nation are about: United—one nation. Represent your flag. We need understanding, to accept and respect each other. Out of many one people.
“Have your culture; have your heritage. Be proud of your heritage—but we are all Americans. E Pluribus Unum; out of many, one. We are Americans first,” — U.S. Army serviceman twice deployed to Afghanistan.
What a privilege to interview some of our active duty and retired military members and share their words dispersed throughout this article.
I wonder how many know that congress designated May as Military Appreciation Month in 1999. Only two of the fifty people I asked knew the third Saturday of May is designated as Armed Forces Day. However, someone informed me that May fourth was Star Wars Day. Can we please fix this?
“On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department…The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day, too.” — U. S. Department of Defense.
President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service to our country. The Presidential Proclamation of Armed Forces Day was made on Feb 27th 1950 and first celebrated on May 20th, 1950. It is now observed on the 3rd Saturday in May.
In 1866, following the Civil War, a women’s memorial association in Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers with flowers. This benevolent gesture inspired the poem “The Blue and the Grey,” by Francis Miles Finch.
On May 15th, 1868, Union hero Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a day of memorial, originally known as Decoration Day, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.
With President Ulysses Grant presiding, General James A. Garfield (who later became 20th President of the United States in 1881) delivered the speech at the first national Memorial Day observance which took place on May 30th 1868, with a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the ground of which was formerly the estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his wife.
Memorial Day was later expanded to honor all deceased American military men and women who gave their lives defending our nation in battle. In 1971, federal law moved the observance of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May.
Today Memorial Day is observed at Arlington National Cemetery by decorating each grave with an American flag and placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In other military cemeteries, flags are placed on the graves of all veterans and even on their spouse’s graves on Memorial Day.
General James A. Garfield’s Speech, known as “His finest hour,” given at the first national Memorial Day:
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith,