The Deeper Meaning of Memorial Day

Waterloo, NY (Photo Credit: Scott Iseman)

“Gettysburg was fought to insure that self-government might not disappear from the earth” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Memorial Day was born of the Civil War.

While Veteran’s Day is a day to celebrate the service of all of America’s military veterans, Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is about honoring and remembering America’s patriotic dead. Those who have served, fought and died for America, in all wars since the Civil War (1861-1865).

In May 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a Proclamation declaring Waterloo, NY the birthplace of Memorial Day. Memorial Day would become a Federal Holiday in 1971.

So what is the main principle America’s patriots have fought and died for?

On November 19, 1963, post Presidency, now a resident of Gettysburg, PA, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech honoring the Centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Not many know this, but President John F. Kennedy was asked to give the 100 year Centennial speech at Gettysburg. JFK declined. He had to travel to Dallas, as history had other plans. So Eisenhower stepped in.

Eisenhower’s credentials and legacy are monumental in American history. Not only did Eisenhower lead the D-Day invasion in 1944 during World War ll, but would later become President of the United States. Born in America’s heartland, Eisenhower had a deep understanding of America, American history, and American values.

In a short address on November 19, 1963, Eisenhower spoke of Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech a hundred years earlier, where he said of Lincoln, who “foresaw a new birth of freedom, a freedom and equality for all which, under God, would restore the purpose and meaning of America”.

Here’s President Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ — November 19, 1863

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The purpose of this post is not to suggest Waterloo’s Memorial Day (1866) and the Gettysburg Address (1863) are connected, because I don’t believe they purposely are. But the true meaning of Memorial Day is, as Eisenhower best sums this up his tribute to Lincoln.

And that’s what (on paper) America’s patriots (fallen) have served, fought and died for.

On Memorial Day weekend as the nation pauses to to pay tribute, the tone is celebratory, respectful, patriotic, and educational (Veterans telling war stories) until Memorial Day, which is a solemn day for our nation.

Happy Memorial Day!



Categories: American History, Federal Holidays

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