Take a moment today to recognize Memorial Day and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending this country.

Local observances of what is now known as Memorial Day date to April 1866, just a year after the end of the American Civil War. A group of women in Columbus, Mississippi, visited a cemetery there to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers who had died in battle at Shiloh, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The first formal Memorial Day effort was held two years later, in May 1868.

The head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established what was then called Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. May 30 was chosen as the designated day that year because that was when flowers would be in bloom.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held across the country to honor those who had died in the Civil War. After World War I, Americans expanded their celebrations to honor those who died in all American wars, and Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress in 1971.

Today, Memorial Day is often conflated with Veterans Day, which is observed each November to recognize current and past military personnel who are still with us.

But the original purpose of Memorial Day should not be forgotten. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, in celebrating with the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868, perhaps said it best: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

There are plenty of opportunities to honor our fallen heroes today, with ceremonies scheduled in several area towns. Plan to attend to pay your respects, or take a silent moment of your own to give thanks.

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