A Day to Remember
In the years following the Civil War, towns and cities began holding springtime tributes to honor fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. The war between the states had claimed more lives than any other in American history, requiring the establishment of the first national cemeteries. The tradition continued to spread throughout the states—Union and Confederate—eventually becoming known as Memorial Day. Many states had official state holidays and in 1968, it became a federal holiday.
Honoring American war heroes is a tradition as old as our great nation. We have learned lessons during every conflict and the lives lost have always given us pause before entering another battle of arms.
But more is required of us. Those who died in service of our great nation paid a great debt that cannot be fully repaid. We must give our all to honor those Americans who gave us their all. Yes, we should decorate their graves and hold somber ceremonies on Memorial Day each year, but we must tell the stories of the people they were, the lives they lived and the families they left behind.
Those stories are in danger of being lost forever if we don’t take action now to ensure they become a part of our collective national memory. Millions visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial each year. Tens of thousands gave their lives during the many years of conflict and their names are etched into the black granite. But they are more than names and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s next mission, 30 years after building The Wall, is to tell the story behind the names—the legacy of the fallen.
The Education Center at the Wall will provide a home for those stories so that future generations will be able to develop a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made by those in uniform during the Vietnam War, and also the sacrifices of all American service members and their families. The Center, which will be located on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials, will allow visitors to learn about the war they fought, but also about the lives they lived and the people they left behind.
Millions of Americans answered their nation’s call for service in Vietnam, just as they are today in operations worldwide. Among service members, a common thread of service bonds them no matter their era of service, branch or rank. Military families also feel camaraderie of mutual sacrifice. The connection, however, is so often lost among members of the general public who may never have had any direct experience with the military.
That connection must be strengthened and nurtured to ensure that the sacrifices of so many are not forgotten. The lessons learned in Vietnam and other past conflicts continue to influence our collective national consciousness as we move forward in our great nation built by all those who came before, not only in terms of military strategy and policy, but especially, as President Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” We must care for our veterans and their families, and remember those we have lost.
This year the Department of Defense and our nation are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war in Vietnam. The legacy of the long and costly conflict lives on though the veterans who came home and the families of those who did not. Our society cannot forget those great sacrifices or the values those veterans exemplified through their service and heroism. On Memorial Day, we will gather at The Wall to honor and celebrate the lives of those who gave all for their country. You can watch this ceremony online or attend a Memorial Day ceremony in your community.
Lincoln’s words held significant meaning in 1865 as the nation was nearing the end of the Civil War and his meaning has spanned more than a century. Veterans of all eras must be cared for, honored and most importantly—remembered.