Memorial Day: A Day of Remembrance

A Column by Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C-Black River)

On the last Monday of May, Americans across the nation get together to celebrate with their families; enjoying each other's company. While many Americans treat this day as a day of celebration, it should be treated equally as a day of remembrance. As we celebrate, we need to take a moment to realize the celebrations we have the opportunity to engage in are only available to us due to the soldiers who died defending our freedoms as citizens of the U.S.

I enjoy a bit of history and this holiday certainly offers that. This year, we celebrate the 165th Memorial Day on May 27. Following the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day; initially called Decoration Day, was established on May 5, 1868. The name Decoration Day came from the tradition of decorating the headstones of fallen soldiers with gifts and flowers. The initial purpose of Decoration Day was to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War and the ultimate sacrifice that was made to preserve the union. By 1890, all of the former Union states had officially recognized Decoration Day.

Following the end of World War II, a transition began as citizens of the U.S. began to replace the name Decoration Day with Memorial Day. This new name would include the fallen veterans of any American conflict. In 1968, the U.S. government enacted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which would establish Memorial Day on the final Monday of each May. 

As a Vietnam veteran, I have a very personal tie to Memorial Day. Several people I knew and worked with were killed in combat, and this is something I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life. Experiences on the battlefield put our lives in the U.S. into perspective, as we enjoy the everyday benefits of freedom so many across the globe never have the opportunity to enjoy.

My experience showed me freedom comes at a cost. Freedom is not free. Freedom must be fought for. It reminds me of the quote from Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” This quote perfectly encapsulates the spirit of freedom, and the effort it takes to ensure freedom prevails.