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Pioneer Editorial: Memorial Day's real meaning

The Memorial Day weekend serves as the unofficial start to the summer, a time of celebration and fun for many Americans.

The holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, allows many to enjoy a three-day break from work, hold family gatherings and visit cemeteries.

It signals the start of sun and leisure.

But the history of Memorial Day, and its purpose, is steeped in tradition and meaning.

Following the Civil War, Americans recognized the military men and women who died in service to their country.

By the late 1860s, in towns and cities across the country, citizens gathered for tributes to fallen soldiers and decorated graves of Civil War veterans on May 30, for what was then known as Decoration Day.

During World War I, the U.S. broadened the observance to include fallen soldiers of all wars.

Gradually, honoring fallen soldiers annually became known as Memorial Day, and it became an official federal holiday in 1971.

As noted by Beltrami County's veteran's service officers in a letter to the editor last week, a recent National World War II Museum poll showed four-fifths of Americans, or 80 percent, know some or little about the holiday.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our military veterans, both past and present, for the freedoms we enjoy.

The basic rights we cherish, and sometimes take for granted, have been protected by their service.

Our lives would be dramatically different if those liberties spelled out in the Bill of Rights - the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly to name a few - hadn't been valiantly preserved through their service.

This Memorial Day weekend, there are many ways to show gratitude to military members for their sacrifice. A simple thank you carries the power of words. Flying an American flag demonstrates support for their service.

Attending a formal ceremony, like the one at 10 a.m. Monday at Bemidji's Greenwood Cemetery, serves as a tribute to veterans' sacrifice.

Participating in a national moment of silence, at 3 p.m. Monday, reinforces their gift to us.