My friends, it is important for Americans to take time to remember the sacrifices that bought our freedom.
We cannot let the reason for this major holiday be lost or forgotten. I hope this column will be a refresher course for some of you and you can teach your children and grandchildren what Memorial Day is about and what it means to us.
Memorial Day was first observed in May of 1868. The celebration commemorated the sacrifices of the War Between the States, and the proclamation was made by Gen. John A. Logan. Following the decree, participators decorated graves of more than 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers.
In the years since World War I, the day has become a commemoration of honor for those who died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day as we know it, was declared a national holiday, and it is celebrated on the last Monday of May.
Living in Midland, Michigan, (the size of Florence) as youngsters and then as adults, we (the community) would drive to downtown Midland in anticipation of the Memorial Day Parade and Celebration, as it wound down Ashman Street to Main Street and then to Emerson Park. The marching bands, the clowns, the horses, the mayor, city officials and, of course, the American Legion along and the Shriners, were all marching in the parade. This was our way of saluting the fallen heroes of our country’s wars.
Our parents made sure that we knew that this parade was in remembrance of and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. With this holiday, wreaths and flags are laid on the grave of those who lost their lives in war so we can have our freedom.
It is a day of remembrance that is most often keenly felt by families who have personally lost loved ones and the communities that have lost friends. For each generation that has lost soldiers to war, it was and is a regrettable tragedy for everyone. Unfortunately, sometimes Memorial Day opens up old wounds of war, and we might have to heal again.
My father, Robert Cox, and my father-in-law, John Richnak, bravely served in World War II and survived to talk about it years later. My brother-in-law Don Sherwood bravely served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War and survived and is now just talking about his experiences. But sadly, I have a cousin, Michael Cox, who was assigned to go to the war in Vietnam with just nine months left to serve in the Army, and he was killed within weeks of his tour in ’Nam. A sacrifice that should never be forgotten. Memorial Day.
The mission for us on Memorial Day is to reach out in support of all military personnel (doctors, nurses, medics, chaplains) and their families who have sacrificed their lives, for us. For our freedom.
On this day of remembrance, let us give thanks to the 3,518 recipients of the Medal of Honor that has been given out to the real heroes who served in our country’s wars. I would especially like to mention that of the 3,518 recipients of the Medal of Honor, nine have been chaplains. Four Protestant chaplains – John Milton Whitehead, Grancis Bloodgood Hall, James Hill and Milton Lorenzo Haney – were honored for their service in the Civil War. Five Catholic chaplains were honored: Lt. Commander Joseph Timothy O’Callahan in World War I; Capt. Emil J. Kapaun in the Korean War; and Capt. Angelo J. Liteky, Maj. Charles Joseph Watters and Lt. Vincent Robert Capodanno in the Vietnam War. These chaplains are (were) heroes for their gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty while serving as chaplains for their grateful country.
On this Memorial Day, let us pray for those who have died for our country, a total of 1,264,336 men and women, from the American Revolution through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. We also need to pray for and reach out to the surviving family members of these heroes who have sacrificed so much for all of us.
Go to church and pray and be thankful. Go to the cemeteries, especially the Florence National Cemetery, and pray for those who have died serving our country. I know that I will. I am grateful for their sacrifices for my freedoms. Amen.
Bob Cox is a deacon at St. Anne Catholic Church in Florence. Contact him and other board members at firstname.lastname@example.org.