May 23rd, 2014

Memorial Day celebrates those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country


A soldier guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Photo via Flickr user Jim_W

A soldier guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Photo via Flickr user Jim_W

For many, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, but it is also a time when many Americans reflect on the sacrifices of members of the armed forces. With more than 1 million people on active U.S. military duty around the world, many people will spend Monday, May 26, honoring Americans who have died while serving in the military.

Memorial Day was originally created in 1868 to honor Union soldiers who died while fighting in the Civil War. Because of this, Southern states did not observe Memorial Day until after World War I, when the holiday was expanded to include all soldiers killed in all wars. Originally called “Decoration Day,” because of the tradition of decorating the graves of the war dead, Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11 and honors living veterans.

U.S. plans to bring troops home by end of 2014

The White House announced in February that President Obama has told the Pentagon, the home of the Department of Defense, to prepare to bring all American troops home at the end of 2014.

The U.S. military has been engaged in a war against the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political organization, the terrorist group al-Qaeda and other militant groups in Afghanistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


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However, in 2012, a year after al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed by troops in Pakistan, a Pew Research poll showed that 60 percent of Americans supported a quick troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Even when they return from combat, veterans face many challenges back home.

Many soldiers who have seen combat suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder sometimes developed after an individual experiences one or more traumatic events.

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Recently, the Obama administration has come under fire after allegations arose that officials in the Veterans Affairs (VA) administration had delayed treatment for veterans and falsified data to hide the long waiting periods for receive medical care at VA hospitals.

President Obama warned that there will be repercussions if it is found these accusations are true.

“I will not stand for it, not as commander in chief, but also not as an American. None of us should,” he said at a recent White House press conference. “So, if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it, period.”

How to recognize Memorial Day

There are many ways for Americans to be active participants in Memorial Day. Some of the suggestions put forth by The National WWII Museum include changing your Facebook profile to display a picture of an American flag or a photo of someone who gave their life in the line of duty to show pride in American veterans.

The museum also encourages young people to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining what Memorial Day means to you. Placing an American flag or flowers on a veteran’s grave is another show of support.

“The National Moment of Remembrance” will take place at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day. It is a national moment of silence lasting one minute to remember those who have died while serving in the military.


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— Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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