What we're celebrating -- and why

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

Although it's what many people on the Kenai Peninsula associate it with, Memorial Day weekend isn't just about fishing and barbecues. It's a time to remember those who have died in battle for this country.

Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.

In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo -- which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 -- because the town made Memorial Day an annual, communitywide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave.

Also, it is customary for the president or vice president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Communities across the country, including those on the Kenai Peninsula, take part in annual events to commemorate the day.

Observances begin at 8 a.m. Monday by the placing of American flags and crosses at the graves of former service members in the Kenai Cemetery. At 11 a.m. a memorial service with a rifle salute will be conducted at Kenai Cemetery. A ceremony at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai will take place at 1 p.m. Observances will be hosted by AmVets Post No. 4, in conjunction with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10046 and American Legion Post No. 20.

Following the 1 p.m. ceremony, the American Legion, VFW and AmVets Post in the Red Diamond Center will be open to the public for sandwiches and other light refreshments.

All of these are open to the public.

Our fallen soldiers have fought for so much throughout the years, and their dedication has given us the freedoms we enjoy today. We encourage you to take a moment to remember them and the reason for this holiday.

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