Memorial Day is usually thought of as a time for family get-togethers and a kickoff to summer festivities. The real purpose behind the holiday is not a three-day weekend, but a tribute to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the U.S. military.

Dating back to the Civil War in 1860s, early memorial celebrations were held in various communities across America to honor the estimated 820,000 men who were killed during the Civil War. The American Civil War caused more deaths than any other conflict involving American troops.

Waterloo, New York is credited with being the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Originally called Decoration Day, the celebration was observed by loved ones decorating graves with flags and flowers. Gen. John A. Logan was credited with calling for a national day of remembrance in 1868 for the nation’s soldiers killed in the war. Decoration Day was once observed on May 30 of each year because there was no significant battle held on that day. Later, the last Monday of the month was chosen for the observance of Decoration Day or Memorial Day. Memorial Day was declared a national holiday in 1971.

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With social distancing still in place and much of our region in quarantine, Memorial Day will look a lot different this year. Many town, state, and federal observations will be canceled or scaled back in size. That doesn’t mean we still can’t honor those selfless men and women who sacrificed their lives serving in the military.

Flags and flowers can still be placed on graves, just not in large organized groups. We can participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. when Americans are asked for a minute of silence in memory of military men and women. Youth can also celebrate this day by coloring pages and writing about what Memorial Day really means. Social media is also a way of sharing our thanks for those who have served our country.

Some communities across the state are considering drive-by parades, or pre-recorded remarks and ceremonies that will also offer opportunities for residents to honor the contributions of servicemen and women and show their patriotism.

As we slide into summer, remember to honor those who served, fought, and paid the ultimate price for our country. Hang the flag, observe a moment of silence, and give thanks to those individuals and their family members who sacrificed for our freedoms.