On Memorial Day, take a lesson from the Old Guard

  • Published
  • By General Donald Hoffman
  • Air Force Materiel Command Commander
The exact origins of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, are not known. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, that a day should be observed nationwide as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation. That first observation took place May 30th of the same year.

In those days, Memorial Day was intended to honor the fallen soldiers of the American Civil War, but it was expanded after World War I to honor all Americans who had died in military service. Over the years, more than one million American Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Marines and Airmen have given their lives in defense of our great nation. That number continues to grow; we are still losing Americans in combat today. Certainly they all deserve to be remembered ... and honored.

For many Americans, Memorial Day has become simply another three-day weekend or the unofficial kick-off to summer. But there are observances that retain the spirit of the ritual General Logan had in mind.

For more than 60 years, just prior to Memorial Day weekend, the 3rd U.S. Infantry -- The Old Guard -- has honored our fallen heroes by placing an American flag in front of the grave marker of every service member buried at both Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery. As part of this yearly activity, Old Guard soldiers remain in the cemeteries throughout the weekend, ensuring that a flag remains standing at each gravestone.

While I appreciate a day away from the office and an opportunity for a backyard barbecue, I encourage us all to think more like the Old Guard and General Logan. I plan to stop wherever I am and whatever I'm doing on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. for the National Moment of Remembrance. I hope you will do the same. Take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made and the lives lost in the name of freedom.