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OUR VIEW: Take time to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms
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OUR VIEW: Take time to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms

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The Old Guard

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, places flags in front of each headstone for "Flags-In" at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Thursday to honor the Nation's fallen military heroes. 

This is the perfect year to ponder the meaning and significance of Memorial Day.

In the past, this has often been a frantic weekend, or at least marked the beginning of some frantic times. Graduation parties, barbecues, family get-togethers, baseball games and the beginning of summer.

We won’t be experiencing most of those things this year. Because of the most unprecedented time in our history, most of us will have to contemplate, while alone or in considerably smaller groups, the ultimate sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of Americans. It’s a great opportunity to solemnly honor those in the armed forces who died serving their country.

In fact, this is the ideal time to revive a tradition that too often goes awry. Hang a flag outside your place of residence, or put one in a window. 

Memorial Day first was called Decoration Day and came into being toward the end of the Civil War. The formal name change to Memorial Day came in 1967, although the term had come into favor nearly 80 years before.

Interestingly, the holiday's roots are tied to Central Illinois, because those early formal celebrations were under the auspices of the Grand Army of the Republic.

"... Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson came from Springfield (to Decatur) to establish the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of soldiers who fought for the Union, in a move that laid the foundation for what is now Memorial Day," wrote Emily Steele in 2014, then a reporter for the Herald & Review.

On Memorial Day, you'll see flags flying at many cemeteries and from many porch fronts. Families will honor their soldiers, sailors, Marines and guardsmen, living and deceased. All of us need to take time to remember to mourn the dead, comfort the living, and honor the lives lost in pursuit of the greatness of our country.

Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day marks the service of all U.S. military veterans.

It's important for all of us to strive to remember what Memorial Day represents. We don't have to be solemn all day. Living the lives the fallen's sacrifices have helped allow us to have is as much of a tribute to them as tending to gravestones or attending commemorative Memorial Day services. There's room and time for both.

That's part of the purpose of an additional Memorial Day resolution. The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was established by Congress in December 2000. The resolution says that at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, Americans should “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.'”

That's a superb and easily accomplished suggestion. The sacrifice made by the armed forces dead is one to be respected, regardless of age, political stances, or opinions about the armed conflicts into which our country has entered. The number of our fellow citizens who did not return from conflict is sobering. The least any of us can do is pay respect with silence.

To the over 1 million men and women who are serving — including thousands of National Guard members whose work is as varied as the individuals doing it — we say thank you. To the many more who gave their lives, and to those individuals’ families, whether in peaceful or in uncertain times, every last Monday of May, we will always show our gratitude for your service.

PHOTOS: Mattoon VFW Post 4325 Honor Guard, others remember fallen during 2019 Memorial Day ceremonies

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