Memorial Day: It's not just another long weekend

It’s a part of our law and history books – Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was mostly known in the past, was to become an act of the 1968 Congress (36 U.S. Code § 116 - Memorial Day) so that “in a symbolic act of unity, to observe a National Moment of Remembrance to honor the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace,” and “the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace.” 

Our nation’s history has been one of evolution and revolution in term of the pursuit of freedom and self-government and many of our citizens have fought to preserve and extend those freedoms, some at the ultimate cost.

At the end of each May, Americans have gathered to celebrate and honor our service men and women who have bravely sacrificed, but the importance and significance of the last Monday in May often gets mired in the commercials and sales advertisements or calls to invite friends over for a barbeque without a thought behind the meaning of the day.

For others, it means gathering in their local cities and towns in a memorial park or other civic area paying homage to our fallen brothers and sisters. It’s meant to be a day of communities coming together for a common purpose and to reflect – it’s America’s second greatest celebration of freedom provided to us by our military heroes.

As a nation, we have lost over a million souls to battle, none greater than the near half million in the Civil War (498,332 perished), which was the genesis for the creation of Memorial Day. America’s excellence is due to the valor of our soldiers who serve as our nation’s warriors and peace keepers.

And that’s why this day is so important to all of us, to pay a well-deserved tribute to those brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation, who ensured for us the freedoms that we now enjoy.

As Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, I have seen firsthand the sacrifice our military men and women, and their families, make to protect our freedom and our nation. There is no one more deserving of our respect and recognition. 

This Memorial Day please take a moment to pray for our American heroes, for those that perished and the 1.3 million serving across the globe today and every day. We can do this in so many simple, yet meaningful ways - visit memorials or cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of those fallen service members; fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until 12 noon; we can collectively participate in a national moment of remembrance to voluntarily and informally pause at 3 p.m. local time to reflect and remember. And we can pledge to help those widows and widowers, parents, and children of the fallen.

To our Gold Star families - we are humbled by your sacrifice, inspired by your resilience and grateful for your continued service to our communities.

We must, as Americans, remind ourselves that the patriotic acts of these individuals continually provides us with the ability to carry on our nation’s traditions and values, bringing hope to the rest of the world that Democracy will endure.

Theirs is a legacy nearly two-and-a-half centuries old. Whenever freedom is threatened, gallant men and women of America risked and gave their lives in the service to our country. We celebrate Memorial Day because generations of brave and courageous warriors have dedicated themselves to the defense of the United States. It is what has always made America the beacon of hope and freedom that we are.

In closing, I would like to end with the challenge then-President Reagan gave to all Americans on behalf of those we have lost, when he spoke at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, 1982.

“Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough. The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has cost: it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we-in a less heroic way-be willing to give of ourselves”. 

“If words cannot repay the debt we owe these men and women, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice”.

I hope we can each live up to President Reagan’s challenge, and through our own action, keep faith with all those who have fought and served, by keeping their memory alive. 

Mario A. Guerra is the former Mayor of Downey and current Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. He can be reached at