Leonardtown, MD – Memorial Day is the finale of a long-awaited three-day weekend shared with friends and family. Yard projects have started, grills are lit up, and good times are underway in just about every neighborhood. Just over an hour away from jubilant cookouts lies around 400,000 fallen soldiers who gave everything so that joy could be had throughout the United States.

The day of remembrance began as “Decoration Day” and was first organized on May 30, 1868 in the shadow of America’s bloodiest war. With more casualties than any other war in the U.S.’s short history, General John A. Logan, who led the Northern Civil War veterans saw that the country needed some time to heal. In his proclamation for the day, Logan acknowledged that the war touched everyone with bodies lying “in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Before he became the 20th U.S. President, James Garfield, a Union General and Ohio congressman, made the first speech at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the, at the time, 20,000 graves. In front of more than 5,000 people, Garfield gave a speech touching on order, sacrifice, inspiration, and grief, finishing his speech stating, “I will delay the coronation no longer.” The crowd filtered out into the cemetery, walking amongst Union and Confederate soldiers alike laying wreaths on tombstones and wallowing in the grief of the worst result a nation divided can find itself in.

By the time the U.S. entered another major war, 52 years had passed, and war had changed. Lines of soldiers turned into foxholes and trenches, cannons became mortars, muskets became machine guns, and aviation made the battlefield three dimensional. When the Great War finally ended in 1918 the U.S. lost 116,516 troops, despite only being involved for a year. The war to end all wars morphed Decoration Day, expanding it to encompass fallen soldiers from all wars instead of only those from the Civil War.

The day was observed on May 30 each year until Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” in 1968, making Memorial Day the last Monday in May “in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees,” according to history.com. The change went into effect in 1971, finally becoming a federal holiday.

All over the DC area, ceremonies and parades are organized to honor the fallen soldiers. 2019 will be the 151st National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington Cemetery, Annapolis will host a parade and hold a ceremony at their national cemetery, the Calvert American Legion will host their annual ceremony, and the Waldorf VFW will do the same.

The significance of the military, its veterans, and those who never made it back are evident throughout Southern Maryland and St. Mary’s County. Whether it’s those currently serving at Pax Nas, those that have finished their service at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, or the many from the county who fell in combat, just about everyone in the area knows someone from the military.

So in between the joy, a three-day weekend with friends and family brings, take a moment to acknowledge those who gave it all so that we can enjoy every weekend and weekday just the same

Contact Jerold at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.