Senator John ThuneMemorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and I hope that we get a beautiful, warm weekend across the state. Throughout South Dakota and across the nation, people will gather for barbecues and picnics with family and friends, as well we should. During our celebration, however, we must not lose sight of the holiday’s true meaning: the sacrifice of those Americans who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.
Memorial Day has roots in ceremonies that took place in both the North and the South following the Civil War where family members of deceased soldiers decorated the graves of the fallen with wreaths and flowers. Anecdotes from both the North and South indicate that the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were honored, regardless of the mourners’ allegiances. The time-honored tradition of placing remembrances at the graves of the fallen on Memorial Day continues to this day.
The tradition rooted in the Civil War grew as Americans were called to defend our nation in places far from home. The contributions made by American service members in the First World War elevated awareness of the tradition, and the omnipresent sacrifices made by American families in World War II heightened the importance of remembering the fallen even more. Still, Memorial Day was not officially recognized as a federal holiday until 1967.
Memorial Day is no less important today than it was when the Civil War widows first laid flowers on the graves of their fallen loved ones. Young men and women from South Dakota and every other state continue to risk their lives in dangerous places far from home to defend our nation, and there are families in South Dakota who know the pain of losing a loved one in war. Our thoughts and prayers must be with them on this holiday.
In addition to the picnics and gatherings across South Dakota this Memorial Day, there will be services in many communities to remember those old friends and neighbors who gave their lives in service to our nation. I urge South Dakotans to consider attending a nearby gathering and to make remembrance of the fallen a part of any Memorial Day celebration they may participate in. I hope that all those who travel over the weekend do so safely, and I wish all South Dakotans a safe, happy, and thoughtful Memorial Day.