The last Monday in May, Memorial Day, is set aside to honor those who have died while serving our nation. Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day has many claims to its origin. Some claim that organized women’s groups, located in the South, were decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers before the end of the Civil War. However, it is more likely that this holiday actually has several different origins.

Proclaimed a national holiday in 1868, Memorial Day was originally a day that was set aside to honor those soldiers who had died in war. However, today most people don’t even know why they celebrate Memorial Day. To them it is a day that marks the beginning of summer, when the swimming pool opens and a time to start having barbecues. The real message of Memorial Day has been lost.

Lost are the stories of soldiers who gave their lives for their country. Veterans are treated with a sense of apathy and some tolerance to the stories, so many rich, wonderful stories that they have to share. Yet no one has time to listen, it seems. This has led to the significance of Memorial Day, the meaning of this day, to shift from the true, patriotic meaning to something that is superficial and could be completely ruined if it rains. Ask ten people what Memorial Day is and chances are great that 7 or 8 of them will not know. This is a tragic statement about the state of our country.
We see yellow ribbons and “Support our Troops” bumper stickers, but these gestures seem almost superficial when we take into account the general attitudes of the American public. What about those fallen soldiers who died while serving their country? What about those soldiers who committed their lives to defend the rights and freedoms that we Americans so often take for granted? This is what Memorial Day is. It has nothing to do with barbeques or pool parties; it is a way of commemorating, remembering and thanking those courageous men and women who gave their lives to ensure our own freedoms.

There are many women who have served in our United States Armed Forces and they deserve the recognition and gratitude that has traditionally been given to male soldiers. These women exhibited courage and love for their country.

Army PFC Lori Piestewa is believed to be the first American Indian woman to be killed in combat. She was a single mother of two, a son who was 4 and a daughter who was 3. On March 23, 2003, Piestewa lost her life when she and her company were ambushed near Nasiriyah, Iraq. Initially, Piestewa and her company were listed as MIA. However, that status was changed after an attempt to free American POWs revealed that she and other members of her company did not survive. Piestewa came from a long line of military service; both her father and grandfather had served in the United States Army. This loving mother and brave war hero is someone to be revered, remembered and honored.

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