Memorial Day commemorates the men and woman who died while in military service to their country, Hillsboro VFW Post Commander Rick Wilkin said Monday during a service at the Veterans Memorial at the Highland County Courthouse.
“In other words,” Wilkin said, “the purpose of Memorial Day is to memorialize the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice to their country. We spend time remembering those who lost their lives and could not come home, reflecting on their service and why we have the luxury and freedom that we enjoy today. We might consider how we can support and safeguard their grieving families and loved ones who are left behind.”
That is different from Veterans Day, Wilkin said, when all who served in wartime or peacetime, regardless of whether they died or survived, are honored.
Veterans Day is always observed on Nov. 11, regardless of the day of the week it falls on. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May.
The custom of honoring ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves is an ancient and worldwide tradition, Wilkin said, but the specific origin or Memorial Day — or Decoration Day as it was first known — is unclear.
In early rural America, the cleaning of cemeteries and decorating of graves was usually performed in late summer and was an occasion for family reunions and picnics. After the Civil War, America’s need for a secular, patriotic ceremony to honor its military dead became prominent as monuments to fallen soldiers were erected and dedicated, and ceremonies centering on the decoration of soldiers’ graves were held in towns and cities throughout the nation, Wilkin said.
He said that after World War I, the day expanded to honor those who died in all American wars.
In 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday by an act of Congress.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Memorial Day services were canceled or abbreviated, as was the case in the Hillsboro where services included prayers, the playing of Taps, a rifle salute, the placing of a wreath at the Veterans Memorial, and a few words from Wilkin on the courthouse lawn. From there the Highland County Veterans Honor Guard visited St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery and the Hillsboro Cemetery to place a wreath and fire a rifle salute.
Wilkin said the hope is that next year the observance will include a full ceremony with a guest speaker and a lunch after the ceremonies at the VFW post.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.