Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Flip through the local paper, and you'll see that Memorial Day notices appear as sales headlines and attention-grabbers. Memorial Day Sale and Pre-Memorial Day. Pretty soon we'll see post-Memorial Day sale advertisements.

Similarly, television and radio are full of Memorial Day advertisements. I've even received a few Memorial Day Sale notices by e-mail during the time I've spent writing this column.

Sales and BBQ are the two things that many people think about when Memorial Day is mentioned. What else? Well, for many Americans, it's the weekend that the pool opens and summer begins.

But it means more than that. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day soon after the Civil War. Each year on this day, the graves of the fallen soldiers were decorated to honor the memory of their sacrifice to keep our country united. They gave the ultimate sacrifice.

The holiday can be traced back to John Logan, who served as an Illinois congressman prior to the Civil War, then volunteered as a Union soldier and was promoted during the war to general. He issued an order in 1868 to honor those who died in the war. At that time, he was serving as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of former Union soldiers.

"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," stated the order. "We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance," it said, adding that their deaths were "the cost of free and undivided republic."

It was a high cost indeed. More than 600,000 American soldiers died during the Civil War, the most deadly war for Americans.

That first year, approximately 5,000 people gathered at Arlington Cemetery to decorate the graves with American flags. Since then, the custom has grown and spread.

Arlington Cemetery, located in Virginia across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, is today the military graveyard of hundreds of thousands of United States soldiers. On a recent visit to our nation's capital, I had the opportunity to walk through the cemetery and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Walking through the cemetery, surrounded by thousands of small, white gravestones, perfectly aligned, row after row, it is easy to remember the sacrifice that has been made on our account. Soldiers have died. Families have lost sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends. There are miles and miles of trails through the cemetery.

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Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.