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Viewpoint: A time for remembrance

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Well, May is finally here. This means summer is just around the corner. May also means Memorial Day is soon upon us. For some, Memorial Day is a day we set aside for the unofficial start to the 101 days of camping, golfing, fishing, white-water rafting, swimming and enjoying the warm weather and long hours of daylight. For others, Memorial Day is a day for great shopping as the stores always have great sales. These facts are what most Americans see Memorial Day as - a day off to enjoy, a day off to have fun, a day off to be out of the office. Memorial Day, however, is much more than this.

The first "Memorial Day" took place in 1868. Per General Order 11 from Gen. John Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, "the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country in the late rebellion, and whose burdens now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church-yard in the land." He wanted all Americans to preserve a day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the nation.

Between 1868 and 1971 when Congress legislated the current 3-day weekend in May, the ideals that General Logan wished for on Memorial Day slowly took hold all over the country. Before World War I, the southern states remembered those who died for the Confederacy on a day other than the 30th of May. After World War I, the entire country became united and began to mourn as one. They mourned those lost in the "Great War" and those lost in all wars we have fought as a nation. It was only then that the 30th of May truly became a time to remember.

Last year, Memorial Day took on a new meaning for me. I was assigned to the 800-member Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. The night before Memorial Day we all gathered together on Forward Operating Base Phoenix in downtown Baghdad to honor 29 fallen comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Surrounding a make-shift memorial, members from the English, Australian and U.S. militaries stopped to remember those who died in the defense of liberty and freedom.

The 30th of May also celebrates the end of the month in which we recognize and pay tribute to our Armed Forces. In May, we celebrate Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May, and Military Spouse Day, the Friday proceeding Mother's Day, and we normally collect money for military families through the Air Force Assistance Fund.

President Ronald Reagan stated in his proclamation on the first Military Spouses Day in 1984, "the wives (and husbands) of our servicemen (and servicewomen) have made unselfish contributions to the spirit and well-being for the fighting men (and women) and the general welfare of their communities." President Reagan called our spouses, volunteers that support our communities. As parents, he said they uphold our family traditions that strengthen the foundations of our nation.

Our spouses are special people who need to be remembered because of their unfaltering scarifies. They have given up their own careers to follow us from assignment to assignment, they support and nurture our families and communities during long temporary duties and deployments, and finally, they are special patriots loyal to the freedoms we, the men and women in uniform or as Department of Defense civilians, swore to defend.

They are true public servants who love their country and should be remembered when we take time to remember those who have gone before us. I know I was not only thinking about those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, but also my wife, and my entire family, during that memorial service a year ago in Baghdad.

Therefore, I challenge all of you to prepare for Memorial Day by resolving to place the memorial back into Memorial Day. Let's all take a moment on Memorial Day to remember those fallen comrades, those deployed in harms ways, and our families.

Memorial Day is truly for them...may we never forget their resolve.
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