SOUTHWEST ASIA — The Civil War ended nearly 150 years ago on May 9, 1865, marking the beginning to a new era. However, many lives were lost during the more-than-four-year war. As a result, three years later, on May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established what was then called “Decoration Day.”
It wasn’t until after World War I, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. More than a century later, in 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May to be Memorial Day.
The federal holiday affords Americans an opportunity to reflect on the lives lost protecting the nation’s interests at home and abroad. For servicemembers deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, it’s a way to be thankful for the freedoms Americans enjoy every day.
“For me, it’s honoring those who have served before me, both past and present,” said Tech. Sgt. Ginger Bell, 379th Force Support Squadron food service contracting office representative, whose father and sister have both served in the military.
Family tradition is what brought many to join the ranks. For Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Black, he’s continuing that legacy.
“My father served in Vietnam,” Black said, who is an aviation electrician with the VAQ-138 Electronic Attack Squadron. “When your country calls you to do something — to be a part of something bigger than yourself — you proudly stand up and serve. I joined to be that person others learn to rely on, uphold life at all cost and keep others free.”
These freedoms do not come without cost — a truth all servicemembers know when they raise their right hand and take the oath.
“I think of the guys who, through thick and thin, survived the foxholes, the diseases and bullets flying everywhere to save their friends and family from those who stop at nothing to do us harm,” said Senior Airman David Carter, a 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aircrew ground equipment journeyman, who also comes from a long line of military service. “We are where we’re at as a country because of the sacrifices our military has made.”
The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found more than 2,400 years ago. The Athenian leader, Pericles, offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”
Over the years, Memorial Day evolved into a day Americans remember all those who died.
“The day means remembering all those who have passed,” said Senior Airman Caprice Tyler, a 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron patrolman. “It’s showing respect for my loved ones regardless of if they’ve served in the military or not.”
In December 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” which encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m., relative local time, on Memorial Day, for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who died in service to the nation.
“Please keep all our veterans in mind,” said Senior Airman Dustin Elliott, a 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator.
“Remember our prisoners of war and those missing in action. This day embodies everything we enlisted for, so take a moment to remember those who have come before you.”