Veterans reflect on Memorial Day

MORGAN CITY, La. -- For more than four decades, Americans have viewed the Memorial Day three-day weekend as the unofficial beginning of summer.

The event has become known as a day of parades, flag waving, cemetery-visiting and family gatherings with barbecue, the unofficial meal of the day.

But for millions of Americans it means much more than just a three-day prelude to summer vacations.

While Korean War veteran E.C. “Gene” Bosworth says that he uses the weekend as time to spend with his family, the significance of the day lies close to his heart.

“This is a day to honor the memory of all of the troops, men and women, that gave their lives for the freedoms that we have today,” said Bosworth.

Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May; thereby creating a three-day weekend for federal employees, going into effect in 1971. All 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years

“It did not take a federal law to make me want to celebrate and commemorate” this day of “remembrance for all those that gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said 56-year-old Bill Goessl, who served in the Marine Corps. I have lost friends and buddies and I think of them often, not just around Memorial Day ... But on Memorial Day I take time to honor them.”

The origins of Memorial Day began over a century before it became an official federal holiday. The holiday sprang from an 1862 observance of respect for fallen Civil War soldiers that spread to many communities by the end of the war.

According to the Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history, more than 600,000, requiring the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s Americans had begun holding springtime tributes to the fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

According to the website, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of … decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion,” Logan proclaimed. The date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.

While Decoration Day, which eventually became known as Memorial Day, originally honored those lost while fighting in the Civil War, says after the United States lost so many of its soldiers during World War I the holiday evolved into a commemoration of American military personnel who died in all wars.

“I think it is wonderful that the community takes time out to recognize all these guys that have given their life for their country and for freedom,” said World War II veteran James “Jimmy” Manuel, who earned four medals and a service pin during his service in the Air Force.

Goessl recalled that while growing up in Wisconsin, his family would watch the parades go by while they sat on his grandmother’s front porch. Afterward, they would go out as a family to the cemetery and honor the fallen soldiers, which he says included one of his father’s uncles.

He says that he would like to see more people recognize the significance of the sacrifice that service men and women make. He feels that many people, especially youth, view Memorial Day as simply a day off from work or school.

Goessl acknowledged that the subject matter might be too mature for the very young, but he suggested that students and others can watch the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” if they want to be better informed on what service and sacrifice are all about. He said the scenes depicted in the movie are true-to-life.

Today, many Americans, those who served and those who have not served in the armed forces, are remembering and honoring those that have given their lives on the soils and rivers of countries all over the world as well as on the high seas.

“I lost a few buddies … but, I am still alive,” World War II veteran Gerald Dubois said. He said that he remembers friends and relatives all the time who were lost in a conflict or some other form of service, but today is a special day of remembrance.

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