Lincoln was speaking at a time when there was no official Memorial Day but he effectively laid the ground for its creation three years later in the form of an order from John Logan, commanding general of the Grand Army of the Republic, who set aside May 30th of 1868 as a day to lay flowers at the all too many graves of Union soldiers dotted around the once again United States.
Just as the Civil War gave us Memorial Day – now a salute to all our nation’s war dead – it also saw the creation of the nation’s highest honor for gallantry in uniform, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
To date, there have been 3444 recipients of the medal. Just a few days before our latest Memorial Day, the medal total was matched by the total of military personnel who have been killed in Iraq. Matched and then all too quickly passed.
At presstime, the number of military dead in Iraq was standing at 3,458. Only two of them are Medal of Honor winners.
Clearly, then, you don’t need such a vaunted award to be a true hero.
Above and beyond the political arguments swirling around Iraq, a war that has now seen five Memorial Days, we cannot be less than fully conscious of the fact that we are blessed with a new generation of heroes, living ones and sadly departed ones.
We have much to be thankful for, so many to salute, too many to memorialize in the waning days of May.