Monday, May 26, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
Today is Memorial Day, which to many Americans has become little more than a three-day weekend — the official start of the summer vacation season.
The holiday’s founding, though, has its roots in the Civil War. In 1868, the Army’s commander in chief, Gen. John A. Logan, ordered the troops to clean and decorate the graves of their comrades who died in the war.
“Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic,” Logan wrote in a poignant letter, known as General Order No. 11.
It is difficult to imagine that the American public was in danger of forgetting the cost soldiers and the country had paid during the Civil War, which ended three years before Logan wrote the order. But wars and battles quickly retreat into history books.
That is why it is important that Americans recognize Memorial Day for what it is supposed to be. The service and sacrifice of the fallen soldiers is too great to be forgotten.
In an essay written in 2004, Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized the price paid by the soldiers who died fighting for America, as well as their families.
“The life of each and every one of them is precious to their loved ones and to our nation,” he wrote. “And each life given in the name of liberty is a life that has not been lost in vain.”
The troops don’t make the nation’s policies, nor do they make the decision to wage war. But they put their lives at risk for the sake of the country. Today, we remember the more than 6,700 American soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the hundreds of thousands more who died in the country’s previous wars.
They paid, as Logan wrote, the “cost of a free and undivided republic.” We are grateful, as always, for their service and sacrifice.
A version of this editorial first ran on Memorial Day 2009.