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Editorial: This Memorial Day is chance to return to holiday’s origin

Today’s Memorial Day has a very different mood as we celebrate without the traditions that usually make the holiday special.

There are no large ceremonies taking place at military cemeteries. No baseball games to attend as mass gatherings remain banned. No NBA playoff games to watch on TV. And very limited opportunities for extended family gatherings and/or excursions.

Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was created as a somber day of mourning and reverence. But over the years it has become more about camping, the lake and backyard barbecues than honoring those men and women who paid the ultimate price.

But the lack of available distractions this year make it possible to honor the holiday for its intended purpose. Today, the Journal honors those 666,441 Americans who answered the call of duty and gave their lives for their nation.

Our nation.

The list is long and stretches over millennia, including 8,000 war dead in the Revolutionary War, 2,260 in the War of 1812, 1,733 in the Mexican-American War, 214,938 in the Civil War, 385 in the Spanish-American War, 1,020 in the Philippine-American War, 53,402 in World War I, 291,557 in World War II, 33,686 in the Korean War, 47,424 in the Vietnam War, 149 in the Gulf War, 1,833 in the War in Afghanistan and 3,836 in the Iraq War.

Anyone who has visited the USS Arizona Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial can’t walk away without feeling the magnitude of our nation’s losses. Countless mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends have shed tears upon the news of fallen loved ones, many of whom were only teenagers. For any young adult looking to grow up quickly, the military has an app for that.

New Mexicans have and continue to shoulder our share of sacrifice. Sixteen New Mexicans have received the Medal of Honor, the highest and most prestigious military decoration. As the Journal has reported those include:

Army Pvt. Harold H. Moon Jr., who operated a submachine gun on Leyte in the Philippines on Oct. 21, 1944. The Albuquerque native fought to protect a newly won beachhead against a large number of Japanese attackers. His foxhole became the focal point of the battle and he was forced to stand up to outmaneuver the approaching enemy and direct friendly mortar fire. After Moon was killed, nearly 200 dead Japanese soldiers were found within 100 yards of his foxhole.

Army Spec. 4th Class Daniel Fernandez of Los Lunas, who, along with a sergeant and two other soldiers, was attempting to evacuate a soldier who had been wounded during an ambush by Viet Cong at Cu Chi on Feb. 18, 1966. When the sergeant was also wounded, Fernandez took charge, saw an enemy grenade had landed in the group, and landed on it as it exploded, sacrificing his life.

Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry of Santa Fe, who was serving in Paktya province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008. His squad was attempting to clear a courtyard when he and another Ranger were wounded by enemy rifle fire. After a grenade wounded two other Rangers, a second grenade landed nearby, and Petry picked it up and tried to fling it away from the group. It detonated, amputating his right hand at the wrist, but his action saved the others from further injury or death.

Detailed accounts of all Medal of Honor winners can be read on the official website of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, at www.cmohs.org, or at www.homeofheroes.com, where you can find medal recipients sorted by state, war and other categories.

The Journal encourages its readers to take a few minutes today and honor these and other heroes. The coronavirus may limit our holiday activities, but it doesn’t have to limit our patriotic spirit or our understanding that during this very different kind of war, we are still in this together. A small cookout followed by a brief history lesson for the children can make this unusual Memorial Day a holiday worth remembering.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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