By Charlene Porter
Americans mark Memorial Day May 30, an occasion to honor the soldiers who have given their service and their lives to protect the United States, its citizens and their freedoms.
More than 130 national cemeteries in 39 states will welcome visitors paying tribute to the service of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have defended their country. The commemoration dates back more than a century, to the American Civil War, but its significance has expanded through the years to honor all those who have served to protect the nation.
Arlington National Cemetery is a span of hallowed ground on a hillside above the nation’s capital. It became a resting place for fallen soldiers during the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this year. More than 3,000 service personnel began Memorial Day activities several days ago with the placement of miniature U.S. flags on the 265,000 graves in the cemetery. The exercise is duplicated at many of the other national cemeteries around the country, and at some of the 24 cemeteries overseas where the United States maintains burial places for soldiers who fell in battle abroad and never returned. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that more than 2 million graveside flags were placed in its cemeteries last year.
Arlington Cemetery is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where honor guards walk ceaseless vigil in recognition of the sacrifice made by the interred. President Obama honored a tomb of unknown Polish soldiers May 27 as one of his first acts on his first visit to Poland. The White House released President Obama’s holiday proclamation.
Rolling Thunder cruises through Washington on Memorial Day 2010. Motorcycle riders and veterans from all over the country make the trip to support veterans and their families. “As a grateful Nation, we forever carry the selfless sacrifice of our fallen heroes in our hearts, and we share the task of caring for those they left behind,” the proclamation says. It urges Americans everywhere to take a moment to pray for peace on May 30 at 11:00 a.m.
In many places across the country, Memorial Day is marked by the mournful sounds of a lone trumpet and murmured prayers, but the roar of thousands of motorcycle engines rumbling past Washington landmarks has become another tradition of the Memorial Day weekend. Rolling Thunder XXIV is a massive demonstration of growling, two-wheeled vehicles, sponsored by an organization of the same name that is an advocate for veterans, their families and POWs/MIAs (prisoners of war/missing in action). Riders come from every corner of the nation to ride in solidarity for this cause and to have their voices — and engines — heard in Washington.
A national spokesman says last year’s event attracted an estimated crowd of 900,000 riders and spectators, and a similar number is expected this year. Dedication to veterans and their families is not a one-weekend cause for Rolling Thunder, however. Spokeswoman Nancy Regg says the group supports veterans and their families all year long and distributed more than $230,000 in assistance to former soldiers and their families last year.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. )Photo by William D. Moss