May 30, 1868 was the first official Decoration Day. The day was declared by General John A. Logan and observed at Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteers that day decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
Almost 500,000 military personnel died during the U.S. Civil War.
During World War II, Decoration Day was expanded and renamed Memorial Day to honor all Americans who died in military service. The day became a national holiday in 1971.
About 1.1 million service members have died in all the wars combined.
If you know someone killed in any of our wars, then every number is very personal to you. We know 90,220 of our service members died in Vietnam. If one of those was your friend, sibling or child then that war has a face that is personal to you.
Four thousand four hundred and twenty four died in Iraq. I'm not sure how many have died in Afghanistan. The last statistic I can find is 2,372, but I'm sure it's several more now.
War is bad. I don't like the idea of war and yet every service member died fighting for you and me. They died for our country.
Every time you have a casual moment to do anything you want to do, then stop and thank God for our service members. We have so much freedom in America. We have to pay some taxes if we work and own property. We have some laws we have to obey which pertain to treating each other in a civil manner. After this, you are free to go to the ice cream shop anytime you want. You can work hard and buy whatever you want or if you are content and want to do little to nothing you can even do that in our country.
The bottom line is America is still the greatest country in the world. We aren't perfect and we have problems but we still have freedom and we need to respect and give thanks to our past and present soldiers.
Take a moment at the cemetery and walk around. It won't take you long to find a gravestone of someone who served our country. When you do, give thanks for their lives and the life you are enjoying today.
Memorial weekend is America's weekend to travel our highways vacationing or resting at home. As you travel, or hopefully relax, thank God for our soldiers - past and present.
(Glenn Mollette is a columnist and author in Washington, D.C. Contact him at GMollette@aol.com.)