Honoring our heroes on Memorial Day
Published 3:08 am Tuesday, May 30, 2006
By By Jo Bonner
On Monday, Americans paused to reflect on the sacrifices of the members of our armed forces-both those currently wearing the uniform and those who have served in decades past-who lost their lives in the defense of freedom and liberty for our great nation.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was a day to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. The holiday began during the Civil War when women's groups throughout the south decorated the graves of the Confederate war dead.
General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers, officially proclaimed Memorial Day in 1868:
"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
During the first celebration, Gen. James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, where 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. At the conclusion of World War I, the holiday was changed to honor the war dead from all American conflicts.
In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. Today, Memorial Day traditions take place in towns all across the country. Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place American flags on each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery, and the president or vice-president traditionally lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In St. Louis, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 gravesites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Many other towns host parades and concerts.
Regardless of how you and your family choose to recognize this Memorial Day, I hope each of you will take a moment to remember some of south Alabama's own sons and daughters who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending liberty around the globe, particularly those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan:
PFC Howard Johnson, II, Mobile; Sgt. Troy Jenkins, Repton; SPC P. J. Bueche, Daphne; CWO Philip Johnson, Mobile; SPC Christopher Taylor, Daphne; Sgt. Foster Harrington, Mobile; SPC Steven Ray Givens, Mobile; Sgt. 1st Class Lonnie Parson, Bay Minette; LCpl. Brad Faircloth, Mobile; and Cpl. Christopher Winchester, Flomaton.
If I have overlooked any native south Alabamians who have lost their lives in the War on Terror, please accept my apologies and my gratitude and that of all Americans for their efforts and sacrifices.
May we never forget their lives and their sacrifices, and may we continue to honor our commitment to our veterans and their families in the years ahead.
Recognizing the needs of veterans
Reading further into the proclamation issued by General Logan, we find:
"Let us, in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."
These words are still very relevant today, particularly in light of recent action taken by the House of Representatives. One of our most important responsibilities is providing our veterans and their dependents with the benefits and assistance they need.
In the 109th Congress, we in Congress have passed major legislation to support our military and our veterans including:
H.R. 5037, Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act prevents protesters at the funerals of military men and women who die while serving their country. The bill is headed to the president for signature.
H.R. 5385, The Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2007 provides a historic $25 billion for veterans' medical services and increases funding by $20 million for facility improvements in existing veterans' homes. The bill has passed the House.
H.R. 1499, Heroes Earned Retirement Opportunities Act (The HERO Act) would treat tax-free combat pay as taxable compensation for the purpose of making annual IRA contributions. The provision is effective for contributions made after December 31, 2003 – providing our troops with up to $70 million in tax benefits over the next 10 years. The bill has passed the House.
S.1235, Veterans Housing Opportunity and Benefits Improvement Act of 2006 authorizes a 5-year pilot program to provide housing assistance to disabled veterans residing temporarily in housing owned by a family member. It has passed the House and has returned to the Senate where it is awaiting further instructions. As your congressman, I will continue to work to ensure that those who sacrificed so much receive th
support they and their families need..My staff and I work for you. Please call if we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.