Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was first proclaimed by General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868 and was first observed on May 30, 1868. It was originally founded to memorialize soldiers who gave their lives to either side of the American civil war, but was changed in 1915 to include soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in any of our nation's wars. As a child and young adult I always anticipated the holiday as an opportunity to have a three-day weekend, which millions of Americans still find as the primary reason to celebrate it. The cookouts, camping trips and the other outdoor activities associated with Memorial Day have, for many, become the holiday. Even the parades on this day do not fully capture the spirit of that first Memorial Day and the passion that ignited it into existence.
But for any of us who celebrate the original intent of Memorial Day, i.e., to honor the men and women of our military who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedoms of their countrymen, this day is a solemn occasion. I find it especially so since my cousin, Staff Sargent Michael Benson, died in June of 2010. Michael served three terms in Iraq honorably and bravely and came home with the deep scars of war. This sensitive and loving soldier groped for something, anything that would quiet the demons of war that occupied his mind and were his constant companion throughout his daily life. That day in June of 2010 when his earthly existence ended and his heavenly one began, the demons of war ceased and were silenced.
Michael once told me that he served for all the other members of his family, so that they would not have to. He believed in his mission and the founding principles of his country and sacrificed himself for those values. He truly taught me the value of subjugating oneself to a cause greater than self. Michael embodied the soldierly tradition of honor, duty and country, living and dying in service to those most sacred tenets.
There are millions of Michaels, soldiers who died in service to this great nation after their time in theater actually ended. I implore anyone reading this post, as you go about your celebration of this solemn holiday, please remember all those soldiers like Staff Sargent Michael Benson, the other war dead, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country after surviving the hell of actual physical war. Honor them as I do, for it is because of men and women like them that we are able to enjoy this day and every other with minds free of the demons of war that they lived with until their deaths finally defeated them.