FRANKFORT – It may not be the official start of the season, but for most of us, the upcoming three-day weekend is when summer arrives.
This time is about much more than that, of course. More importantly, it’s when our nation pays tribute to those who died defending our country.
That list now has more than 1.2 million names, about half of which were added during the four years of the Civil War.
Memorial Day began in the wake of that conflict, and while about two dozen towns claim to be its birthplace, Congress declared in the 1960s that its original home is Waterloo, NY.
There is no doubt about the location of the first national ceremony, which occurred in 1868 at what was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s estate before the war and Arlington National Ceremony thereafter.
In his order calling for the decoration of the soldiers’ graves, Union General John Logan wrote that our nation should always strive to make sure we never forget, “as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
Nearly a century later, another General – Douglas MacArthur – told a group of West Point cadets what drives those willing to serve even at risk to their own lives.
“Duty, honor, country,” he said. “Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
No words better describe the men and women who serve in uniform. They find courage, faith, and hope when it seems there are none.
Kentuckians understand this better than most. One in 10 Kentucky adults is a veteran, and Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, the Kentucky National Guard and those in the Reserves have long played integral roles in our country’s defense. Consider the War of 1812, which saw more Kentuckians die in battle than every other state’s casualties combined.
On Memorial Day, officials will unveil the newest memorial that recognizes those who died while serving Kentucky. This one will honor the 233 people, dating back to the early 1900s, who were members of the National Guard.
It is worth noting that some of their names will later be included on a separate memorial the General Assembly has authorized to recognize those who died while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That figure stands at more than 100.
All Memorial Days are special, but this year’s is noteworthy because it takes place in the midst of several major anniversaries. Last month, for example, marked 150 years since the end of the Civil War, while this summer is the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II.
As we pay tribute to those who gave so much to many, I hope you can take part in one of this weekend’s Memorial Day events. If that is not possible, I encourage you to take a moment to recall the sacrifices given on our behalf. It is crucial that we never let time and indifference cause the memory of our fallen soldiers to fade.
If you are a veteran or are still serving, I want to say how much I appreciate your willingness to carry this mission forward. Our world now is different in so many ways from the eras of the Revolutionary and Civil wars, but the commitment of our men and women in uniform – who truly understand what duty, honor and country mean – remains unchanged.
We are forever in their debt, and we must never forget.