FRANKFORT – On Monday, our nation will pause as it has for more than 150 years to remember and pay tribute to those who gave their lives protecting our nation.
There are more than 1.2 million names on that list, about half of which were added during the four years of the Civil War.
That conflict was the foundation for what we now call Memorial Day. There are several places that claim to be the holiday’s original home, and some think it might have begun when southern families of fallen Confederate soldiers memorialized the graves of Union soldiers because they knew those soldiers’ families were grieving just as they were.
Thanks to a decree President Johnson made 50 years ago this month, however, Waterloo, N.Y., is considered the official birthplace. Five years later, Congress anchored its place on the calendar by ensuring Memorial Day would always been on the last Monday of May.
For many, of course, the upcoming three-day holiday is the kick-off to summer. While that may be true in one sense, we must never forget that it carries much more importance than that.
Thousands of parades and ceremonies will help remind us that the freedom we take for granted comes with a price. It was paid in places as broad as the European and Pacific theaters during WWII and as specific as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also paid by those who have kept us safe within our country’s own borders and elsewhere around the world.
Here in Kentucky, we have gained a hard-earned reputation for always being willing to do more than our fair share. In fact, during the War of 1812, more Kentuckians died in battle than every other state’s casualties combined.
In World War I, it was a Kentuckian who was the very first American casualty, and it was another Kentuckian who was that war’s second-to-last American survivor. We also were the native state of the first U.S. Armored Forces casualty after Pearl Harbor during World War II.
Today, Kentucky continues to show its willingness to serve through such posts and programs as Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, our National Guard and the Reserves. One in 10 Kentucky adults, meanwhile, is a veteran, a number estimated at 331,000 altogether.
During this year’s legislative session, we passed two new laws that will affect many of them. One will establish a new program to recognize disabled veterans who are business owners, in the hopes it will encourage more customers to shop with them, while the other law declares March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
If you are a veteran or are still serving, I want to thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. If you are a loved one or friend of a veteran who died in the line of duty, please know their sacrifice will never be forgotten and that their contributions truly made a world of difference.
If you can, I encourage you to attend a Memorial Day event this coming three-day weekend, but if you cannot, please take a moment to recall those who gave all they had to make sure our country has all it needs. It is the very least we can do.
As President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.