The incredibly high price of freedom

Millions of Americans just spent a relaxing or enjoyable weekend welcoming summer, wrapping up the school year and graduation ceremonies, heading out on long weekend mini-trips and even stay-cations, firing up the barbecue, opening up their community pool, or simply tossing back a few with family and friends.

However, that extended holiday weekend also contained one of our nation’s most sacred and somber remembrances, and that should never be forgotten. Memorial Day is and always will be much more than just a hangover Monday following the first long weekend of summer – it’s the official day of recognition, pause and reflection, as well as for saluting the sacrifice and memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our many freedoms as Americans.

Our nation’s first Memorial Day was April 25, 1866, when Confederate war widows organized remembrance ceremonies in Columbus, Georgia, and Columbus, Mississippi. The two Southern towns still wrestle with whose commemoration came first, but—whichever way you slice it—it was the losing side during America’s Civil War which began the practice of giving thanks, pause, and remembrance for those lives lost during what still remains America’s bloodiest conflict and the largest loss of life.

The Union side would later begin a national day of remembrance, called Decoration Day. It would not be until 1968 that Congress would officially move Memorial Day, along with four other national holidays from their traditional dates of observance to four calendar-fixed Mondays. Memorial Day opens up summer on the last Monday in May.

Armed Forces Week begins the second Saturday in May, and Armed Forces Day is officially the third Saturday, celebrating all active-duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force and related special forces. May is also officially Military Appreciation Month.

Yet, somewhere in this shuffle, some of these patriotic and sacred remembrance holidays have somewhat lost their focus and reason for being, as they have become somewhat blended in with other occasions and holidays like Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, or Valentine’s Day. Memorial Day weekends are becoming better known for barbecues and brews than moments of remembrance and reflection.

Congress passed the National Remembrance Act in 2000, asking all Americans to pause and reflect at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day each year. The federal statute also calls for flying all flags at half-staff from dawn until after 3 p.m., and then after Memorial Day commemoration services, returning all flags to full staff. Along with a silent salute, this seems a very small price to pay in recognition of the many who—along with their families—paid the ultimate price.

Also consider, with your children or grandchildren or perhaps friends and family, visiting a Veteran’s Memorial or cemetery to underscore the importance and high price paid for our many freedoms anytime throughout the year.

Here in Georgia, there are multiple parks and monuments dedicated to veterans as well as veteran cemeteries, with perhaps none being more visually impactful than the Andersonville National Historic Site in southwest Georgia where 13,000 primarily Union Prisoners of War died while in captivity during the Civil War at what was then called Camp Sumter. Thousands of small nameless crosses blanket the landscape with graves covering much of the 515-acre park and monument, where more than 45,000 Union soldiers were held captive during the Civil War. Modern war era veterans continue to be buried there with honors as well.

Much more recently, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association Foundation produced a documentary telling the story of the enduring legacies of the Vietnam War and survivors of that era and conflict. Unlike most returning veterans of prior and post-Vietnam era conflicts, those veterans returned to face in many ways a hostile American public. Those stories and others are shared in a compelling documentary, available on YouTube entitled, “Truths & Myths of the Vietnam War.”
Although Memorial Day is behind us, there’s no reason not to give a somber moment of pause for this cause of recognition and remembrance throughout the year.

Whether with a silent salute, visiting a monument or cemetery or sitting down to view a movie or documentary paying homage to those who previously gave their all, it’s the least we can do for those who gave so much for the liberty and freedoms enjoyed by all the rest of us.

Bill Crane is political analyst and commentator in metro Atlanta, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can contact him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

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