One hundred and fifty years ago, no family or community was untouched by the bloodiest conflict in American history — the Civil War. The four-year-long struggle claimed the lives of over 620,000 soldiers — which is more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined.
It was on May 5, 1868 that the Grand Army of the Republic, an early veterans advocacy group comprised of Civil War veterans, first urged Americans to observe a “National Memorial Day” to honor the dead of the Civil War.
The tradition has grown in the 150 years that have followed. Today, Memorial Day is a cherished and protected national holiday — especially in Oregon. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Oregonians attend ceremonies, town parades and other solemn events to pause and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice — from the Civil War to the most current conflicts in the Middle East.
It is estimated that nearly 6,000 Oregon service members’ lives have been lost in the line of duty since our state’s inception.
However Memorial Day is celebrated in your community, and however different it may appear from the simple ceremonies of a grieving, post-Civil War America, the sentiment remains the same. It is that of a grateful nation to its fallen soldiers: “Thank you. We will never forget you.”
This Memorial Day, as we kick off the start of summer and turn to enjoy Oregon’s incredible parks, beaches, rivers and mountains, we invite all citizens to pause and truly honor our fallen and our Gold Star families. We stand on the shoulders of all those who came before us and will never forget the service and sacrifice of all those who gave all.
Thank you all for your support of Oregon veterans, and bless all those still serving, at home and overseas.
Mitch Sparks is a retired Navy veteran and acting director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
To see events happening around the state for Memorial Day, click here