Holiday History: The story of Memorial Day

When you first see the Alachua County Veterans Memorial, the first thing you notice is the length. With each tile representing one year, the memorial located in Veterans Memorial Park stretches for more than 50 yards as it starts with the American Revolution and leads through the years of our country’s history.

The second thing you notice is the height of the columns located sporadically along the stretch of the memorial. Every brick placed in the columns represents 1,000 American war dead. The bricks built up for the years of 1861-1865 and 1941-1945 tower over the memorial, representing those who lost their lives in the Civil War and World War II, respectively.

Veterans Memorial Park monument in Gainesville

The stacks of bricks for less deadly conflicts are shorter, although the sacrifice of each individual represented is no less significant.

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Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the armed forces. Originally known as Decoration Day, observances started around the country following the Civil War. Even though all 50 states had made it an official holiday for decades, it only became a federal holiday in the late 1960s.

Memorial Day honors those who have died serving our country, which is different than Armed Forces Day, May 15th recognizing active duty military personnel (as well as those who have served). It is also different than Veterans Day, November 11th, which honors living military veterans.

Unfortunately, Memorial Day is also sometimes confused with Labor Day. The Memorial Day weekend has come to signify the unofficial start of summer, and with Labor Day falling the first Monday in September, Labor Day Weekend has come to mean the unofficial end to summer.

The sacrifice made by those who died fighting for the United States is often recognized as allowing us to live lives of freedom and enjoyment. It’s no different at Veterans Memorial Park.

Veterans Memorial Park monuments in Gainesville

Beyond the memorial, there is a hall appropriately named the Freedom Community Center. There are walking trails, places to picnic and hold family gatherings, two different playgrounds, a roller hockey rink, and even a beach volleyball court.

For some, today will mean a visit to a cemetery. It may mean watching a parade or a solemn Memorial Day event. Or, it may mean gathering with friends at home or in a communal space like those at Veterans Memorial Park. Wherever you may be, it’s appropriate to remember those who never lived to enjoy those things because they fought—and died—for the rest of us.

In remembrance of that sacrifice, many places honor the war dead with the words from the Bible in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Bench at Veterans Memorial Park in Gainesville

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