En español | Memorial Day began as Decoration Day -— set aside for laying flowers and other mementos on the graves of loved ones who died while serving their country. We honor them for the great sacrifice they made to protect this nation. We embrace their families and friends with grateful, sympathetic hearts, acknowledging the enormous loss they have suffered.
On the morning of Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is raised quickly, then slowly lowered to half-staff to honor the more than 1 million we’ve lost in war, almost half of them on our own soil in the Civil War. At noon, the flag rises again, a pledge by the living to keep their memory alive and to continue the fight for liberty and justice.
There are competing claims to the original Memorial Day, and many of the stories are tough to verify. But they all have their foundation in reverence, and a desire never to forget the great cost of guarding what’s most precious to us.
Video: Surviving Kamikazes and the Battle of Surigao Strait - In October 1944, a fleet of Japanese battleships attempted to run the Surigao Strait. But U.S. 7th Fleet Support force and the USS Melvin with Phil Hollywood onboard were standing in the way.
With such solemn beginnings, it’s odd that Memorial Day has evolved to herald summer, marked with parades and concerts, celebrated with barbecues and first trips to the beach. Not so odd, though, when we think of these festivities as an important part of the life we treasure, and part of what so many died defending.
So, while remembering the service men and women who never made it back, let’s keep in our thoughts the legions who continue to serve, and those who have become civilians. So many of them need help and support, and they need to know how deeply we value what they have done for our sake.
Part of paying tribute is simply listening, and the stories service members have to tell are among life’s most riveting. For the past 16 years, AARP has been collecting audio and video remembrances — over 88,000 to date — from World War I through Afghanistan. And, when I was at the Library of Congress, we joined with AARP to make sure the stories that comprise this Veterans History Project become part of the library’s permanent collection. You can see some of these videos on AARP’s veterans page. You can see Phil Hollywood, who had a chance to talk about one of his most frightening days in World War II, when kamikaze pilots took aim at his destroyer in the Philippines. Phil passed away not long after the interview, so we feel incredibly lucky to have met him and captured his story.
We thank Phil and his family for his service and sacrifice. We cherish the life that Phil, and every other service member, has fought so devotedly to preserve.