Reasonable people disagree on the origins of Memorial Day, but most accept that the practice of decorating the graves of Americans who died in military service began in earnest during the Civil War.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, made Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part, “… the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …” And other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday on the last Monday in May, America has since honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts pretty much as General Logan ordered.
When America issued its first call to arms before we had a professional army, it went to the militia, which was identified as “all able-bodied men.” Called “Minutemen” because they could be ready to fight on a minute’s notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today we call them small business owners.
From as far away as Scotland, America’s Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies’ quest for independence in “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, “…turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army.”
Early in the 20th century, state militias became the National Guard and the National Defense Act created the Reserves. In every war or conflict since, America has deployed these latter-day Minutemen (and women) alongside regular forces, where they represented a proportional number of casualties.
On this Memorial Day, as we honor all who paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let’s also remember the long tradition of America’s militia, including small business owners and employees, who served courageously on behalf of a grateful nation. It’s hard enough leaving family to march into harm’s way, but the degree of difficulty of that commitment is compounded for volunteers who also disconnect from businesses and full-time careers.
Contemplating the blessing of freedom wherever it may be found, there is one prime truth: Freedom is not free. As beneficiaries of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, our only method of repayment—the only way we can ever be worthy of their sacrifice—is to do all we can to maintain the freedom that they paid for and gave to us.
Write this on a rock … God bless those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, including past and present Minutemen.