“Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.” Ronald Reagan
I’ve always loved that quote by President Reagan and thought that today, being Memorial Day, presented the perfect opportunity to use it. Today we memorialize those who paid the ultimate price – their lives – serving our country and fighting to keep our nation safe. They were brave and we are free because of them.
My dad served in the Navy and I will forever remember literally and physically jumping as they played Taps at his funeral in 1982. He is buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe; a beautiful place and one of only a select few such cemeteries. I don’t go there often because to me, he’s not there, but rather up in heaven with family, friends, and fellow veterans. Still, I do think of him on Memorial Day and wish I could place a flag on his pristine white tombstone.
“A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.
To so many, Memorial Day is simply the unofficial start of summer and a day to host backyard bar-b-ques, open up swimming pools, go on picnics, and enjoy a day off from work. What is the true meaning behind Memorial Day though, and how did it originate and why?
Celebrated the last Monday each May, what is today called Memorial Day was for many years referred to as Decoration Day. It all started after the Civil War as a way to commemorate the more than 600,000 soldiers who died fighting for both the Union and the Confederacy. It became an annual ritual to decorate these soldiers’ graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. In 1967, federal law officially declared it Memorial Day.
The practice of decorating a soldier’s grave with flowers is an ancient custom not unique to America and is common in places as traditional as China. Stateside, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day, claiming women decorated graves on July 4, 1864. However, the first well-known observance of Memorial Day is said to have been in Charleston, South Carolina in May of 1865.
Today it is customary to fly the flag at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset. The day is also usually marked with parades and personal visits to cemeteries across the country. It is important not to confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day, however. Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who died while serving in our nation’s armed forces, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.
With recent headlines chronicling the rise of suicides and sexual assaults in the U.S. military, it’s easy to paint a negative picture of the world’s finest and most respected military, but don’t. Considering the nearly 1.5 active military members today, there are by far more upstanding members than those making those headlines. Here then, is a brief synopsis of America’s military:
Our present military is the result of the National Security Act of 1947. It was then that the “War Department” became today’s Department of Defense, which is headed by a civilian, the Secretary of Defense, who is appointed by the President of the United States. The President serves as our country’s Commander in Chief, giving him command and authority over all military forces. There are five military branches: The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Each has their respective service secretary who helps make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The U.S. Army’s main function is to protect and defend the United States and its interests. It is our nation’s main ground force and is the largest U.S. military service. Established by the Continental Congress in June 1775, it is also the nation’s oldest military service.
Also established by the Continental Congress, the U.S. Navy works under its main mission of maintaining the freedom of the seas and making it possible for the U.S. to use the seas where and when our national interests dictate. The Navy also supports the Air Force in times of conflict with naval aircraft carriers. In addition, the Navy is primarily responsible for transporting Marines to areas of conflict.
The Marines were officially established in November 1775 to act as a landing force for the U.S. Navy but were named a separate service by Congress in 1798. Often referred to as the “Infantry of the Navy,” Marines specialize in amphibious operations such as the capture and control of beaches. The Marines thrive on being self-sufficient and boast their own air power.
The U.S. Air Force was created under the National Security Act of 1947 and is our nation’s youngest military service. Prior to 1947, the Air Force was a separate corps of the Army, but World War II revealed solid air power was essential so the Air Force was established as a separate service. Its primary mission is to defend the United States and its interests through exploitation of air and space.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the smallest military service and draws its roots from the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790. It does not fall under the Department of Defense but is considered a military service because, during times of conflict, the president can transfer its duties and assets to the Department of the Navy. In 1915 it was reformed as the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, was transferred to the Department of Transportation in 1967, but as of 2002 it became an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. During times of peace, its main mission is law enforcement, boating safety, sea rescue, and illegal immigration control.
So there you have it, a brief history of our distinguished and peerless armed forces. As you enjoy your hot-dogs, potato salad, and cold beers today and as you serve your guests at your cook-out, take a moment to remember all those who served a much more vital item: our country. Thanks for serving and thanks for keeping us free.