Memorial Day is once again upon us.  Although the day now marks the beginning of summer, it’s incumbent upon us to remember and thank those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

So much sacrifice

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 1,100,000 Americans have been killed in U.S. Wars.  Let that sink in.  1.1 Million Americans lost their lives in service to their country.  For me, that’s a difficult number to comprehend.

casualties deaths

According to PBS using Department of Defense data.

So how did Memorial Day come about?  The tradition of honoring Americans who lost their lives in service to their country started shortly after the U.S. Civil War.  The war between the North and South cost hundreds of thousands American lives.  The death tolls were so high, nearly every U.S. citizen was directly affected by the war.

casualties deaths

A PBS list of American lives lost during U.S. wars using Department of Defense data.

The founding of the modern Memorial Day

The families and friends of those who lost loved ones actually kickstarted the tradition.  Those family members and friends decided to honor the fallen by spending a day decorating the graves who lost their lives.  Although decorating the graves of fallen soldiers was a longstanding tradition, the establishment of military cemeteries throughout the United States changed the practice from individual families to a community event.

Decoration Day

A decoration day remembrance.

It was on May 30, 1868, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for Decoration Day to be observed annually and nationwide.

That same day, President James A. Garfield is quoted as saying:

Garfield Decoration Day

President Garfield’s quote from Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

And at that first Decoration Day at Arlington National cemetery, volunteers decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Major General John A. Logan proclaimed Decoration Day  on May 30, 1868.  The holiday would later be renamed Memorial Day.

It was not until World War II that the Decoration Day practices were expanded and renamed Memorial Day to honor all Americans who lost their lives in military service.  During that time that approximately 12% of the total U.S. population were a part of the armed forces fighting World War II.  Later in 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May.

The true meaning of Memorial Day

And because Memorial Day has become a national holiday comprising a 3-day weekend, it can be quite easy to forget the true meaning of the day.  While words can and do relay the meaning of Memorial Day, sometimes pictures can help reinforce what really happened and how it affects us today.

Last year, I found a Facebook post made by Our Planet that provides some excellent reminders of how it was and what it is like now.  In many cases, the photos superimpose current day scenes with those from World War II.

Some of the pictures are graphic so I’ve selected a few from the Our Planet post that may help you think back to those who fought and lost their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.


Take some time to look through these pictures.  Perhaps you’ll find them startling, but I think they may help you remember what happened and how some gave their lives so you and I can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Memorial Day

A crashed fighter aircraft on a D-Day beach that is later enjoyed by many.


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Paratroopers landing.


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People arriving at a concentration camp.


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Soldiers march through city streets.


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War’s carnage before and after.


Memorial day

D-Day landers result in a play day for a woman and a child.


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Hiding to get the news out.


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Germans march.


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Tanks in the city.


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D-Day soldiers landing then and later.

Enjoy but remember

I hope that this brief reminder of the history of Memorial Day will make us all pause, think about the sacrifices make so many so that we can live the lives we live today.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but please don’t forget those who gave everything.  I hope you and your families have a happy and safe Memorial Day.


Photo credits as shown in individual photos.

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