Each May, Americans across this nation gather in cemeteries and meeting halls to commemorate the people who have sacrificed their lives for this country. In so doing, they are perpetuating the message that America is a wonderful land in which to dwell and, if necessary, is one worth dying for. I believe that on Memorial Day each American should reflect upon the loss of the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, some only view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer, a day without school or work, an opportunity to go to the beach or have a cookout. While it is fine to play on that day we should not forsake the remembrance of the deceased whose efforts have sustained the United States of America as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
I come from a patriotic family. Both my father and grandfather voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Navy. My dad returned unscathed from Vietnam even though he had been in battle. Likewise, my grandfather escaped harm from bombs that burst around his ship during the Korean Conflict. Others were not as fortunate. For those lost souls whose names I do not know, I celebrate their deeds on Memorial Day.
My feelings are not much different from the persons who held the first “Memorial Day” celebration on May 1, 1865. Recently emancipated slaves of Charleston, South Carolina, were so grateful for the efforts of Union soldiers who had died while prisoners at Hampton Race Course Prison Camp, that they cleaned their graves and made a memorial for them. Nearly 3,000 African-American children sang and decorated their graves with flowers to commemorate the fallen soldiers actions. The children were accompanied by missionaries and other soldiers for the celebration they called “Decoration Day.” That celebration ended with a picnic on the grounds.
Most historians have overlooked this event. Without the efforts of Yale Professor of History David Blight, this important fact may have remained hidden in forgotten, archived records. Thanks to him this historical fact is now known. Most of America attributes the creation of Memorial Day to General John Logan because he published General Order No. 11 that proclaimed May 30, 1868, would be a day to remember all who had died during the Civil War. The order encouraged everyone to place flowers or flags on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers who had died for their country.
Each life lost deserves an expression of gratitude from the benefactors. We should never forget those who have gone before us. I am keenly aware that the privileges of my citizenship are due to the efforts of valiant warriors who risked life and limb. I hope that all Americans will join with me when Memorial Day comes around this year and acknowledge it as a day of solemn remembrance. You can still picnic and have fun, but listen for Taps to be played at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and reflect in silence about the great cost of freedom.
- Javan Latson
First Place Winner in the High School Division was….
Read Javan’s prize winning essay below...