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Memorial Day 2011 - Letter

"Memorial Day must not be the only day in which we keep our troops, men and women like you, in our thoughts," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the troops in his annual Memorial Day message. "It has been my greatest honor to serve and to lead you as secretary of defense. ... I will always keep all of you in my heart and in my prayers as long as I live - as should all Americans."

May 30, 2011

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Memorial Day Traditions Live On

On Memorial Day, men and women across the nation pause to remember America’s fallen soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of protecting American freedom.

Originally known as “Decoration Day,” Memorial Day came into existence just three years after the Civil War ended. Decoration Day was intended as a time to remember the soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War and more specifically, to honor their memory by decorating their graves.

On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic declared the first Decoration Day to be held on May 30, 1868. As part of the day’s observances, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

By the late 1800s, as the holiday grew in popularity and was observed by more states, Decoration Day had become better known as Memorial Day. But it wasn’t until the end of World War I that Memorial Day was opened to include fallen soldiers who fought in all U.S. wars.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and designated the last Monday in May as the official day of observance. And every year on that date, U.S. defense leaders, members of Congress and citizens return to Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to the men and women who have given their lives for our country. Dignitaries watch as the 3rd Infantry leads the Memorial Day ceremonies, which include wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

For most Americans, Memorial Day is marked by similar traditions on a more personal scale.

In December 2000, President Bill Clinton issued a presidential memorandum calling on all Americans to pause for a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3 p.m. local time every Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifices made for the nation.

Many Americans mark Memorial Day by decorating gravesites with flowers and flags, attending local parades and donning red poppies of remembrance. Many take the opportunity to remember friends and family members who died while serving their country as well as to honor the veterans who survived the wars past.

And, family and social gatherings abound as Americans honor the gift of freedom that these heroes have given us.

It is with the same sense of honor and gratitude that the Department of Defense highlights those service members who have given America their all.

By Erin Wittkop

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