Flags on veterans' graves at Calverton National Cemetery on Memorial Day...

Flags on veterans' graves at Calverton National Cemetery on Memorial Day last year. Credit: Morgan Campbell

The first official large-scale commemoration of Decoration Day, as it was then known, occurred in 1868 — three years after the Civil War ended. It marked an opportunity for a divided nation to come together. Children decorated the graves of those who had died — in both the Union and the Confederacy — with flowers.

More than 100 years later, in 1971, another moment of national fissure and uncertainty, Memorial Day became a national holiday.

Now, the nation is again deeply fractured. Thankfully, we're not at war with other nations as we have been in generations past. Now our battles in legislative chambers and in the streets, on college campuses and online, have grown in size and heat. Polarization has come to pervade many facets of our lives, from politics to parenting, from our kitchen tables to our schools and libraries. We see it in congressional committee shouting matches, angry school board meeting exchanges, and the constant devolution of how we respond to one another on social media. No forum seems immune from ugliness and malevolence.

On this Memorial Day, let's strive to be uplifting. Let's vow to find commonality in our respect for our nation and its institutions, laws, and communities. Some sentiments and values should be universal. Let's remember and honor those who died in the service of this country and the very freedoms that give us the ability to speak up when we disagree. Let's recognize that Americans of many generations have given their lives for those shared ideals. Seize this moment to try to bridge our gaping divides and fortify the principles that bring us together.

While we often remember service members from wars dating back to the beginnings of this nation, this also is a time to recall the nation's more recent losses, including this year's tragic deaths of three U.S. service members killed in a January drone attack in Jordan. Past wars continue to resonate, too. Earlier this month, the remains of two 17-year-olds and one 19-year-old who died in the Korean War were officially identified, allowing them to be brought home and given proper burials in their hometowns. When such remains are recovered, bronze rosettes are placed next to their names in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. As symbols, rosettes are similar to the flowers children placed to honor our war dead more than 150 years ago, another way our past and present are linked.

As we enjoy the beaches, barbecues and parades this holiday weekend, let us contemplate the true meaning of Memorial Day. In remembering all who gave the greatest sacrifice, we should seek ways to come together and find common ground — not just today, but in the days, weeks and months to come. 

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.


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