Why Memorial Day

On Memorial Day 1884, not even 20 years after the tradition of decorating the graves of Soldiers had begun, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., remarked to a crowd that he had heard a young man ask “why people still kept up Memorial Day.”

Holmes, a three-times wounded Civil War veteran who went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, recalled this remark in a speech he gave to the John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic in Keene, N.H.

It is most likely that the young man Holmes spoke of had not served in the Civil War, and therefore did not and could not have a full appreciation for the devastation of war, unlike Holmes and his contemporaries who lost so many comrades and thought of Memorial Day as “sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth.”

Understanding that his generation who had fought in the war had been “set apart by its experience,” Holmes said he felt his answer, nevertheless, should “command the assent of those who do not share their memories.”

“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall — at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory.”

On this Memorial Day, On Your Guard honors and salutes all those who acted greatly before us in defense of our freedoms.

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Happy Armed Forces Day!

On the third Saturday in May for the last 64 years, our nation has celebrated Armed Forces Day to honor those who are currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953, “It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”

This year on May 17, we salute our Soldiers’ courage, honor, strength, duty, dedication, excellence, valor, commitment, and professionalism.

Happy Armed Forces Day from all of us at On Your Guard.

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Guard Snapshot: Washington

The Washington Army National Guard was activated last month after a fatal mudslide killed more than 40 people and devastated the community of Oso in the Cascades foothills. In addition to adding forces to the search and rescue effort, the Guard was called to keep responders safe.

Washington National Guard SPC Lindberg, 790th Chemical Company, decontaminates a vehicle as it leaves the impact area of the SR 530 mudslide on April 1, 2014. The decontamination stations remove hazardous materials from rescue workers, dogs, vehicles, and personal items, reducing the spread of illness onsite. (Photo by Spc. Sarah Booker)

Washington National Guard SPC Lindberg, 790th Chemical Company, decontaminates a vehicle as it leaves the impact area of the SR 530 mudslide on April 1, 2014. The decontamination stations remove hazardous materials from rescue workers, dogs, vehicles, and personal items, reducing the spread of illness on-site. (Photo by SPC Sarah Booker)

While search and rescue operations were being conducted at the impact area, several responders became ill due to toxins in the mud from household cleaners, septic systems, vehicles and other factors. This prompted incident command to implement further safety measures, including calling in the Washington Army National Guard’s 790th Chemical Company.

The 790th deployed Soldiers to the impact area to set up decontamination points on either side of the debris field, approximately a mile and a half apart. The “decon” points included a station where rescue workers and search dogs were hosed down; hand wash stations; and separated areas for before and after exposure to the mud.

“When we first got here, they were only using the fire hoses from the truck, and they weren’t doing as thorough of a decontamination job as we would,” said Private First Class Spencer Cutler. “We make sure every single piece of contaminant is off of them before they eat or return to where they sleep.”

Cutler said he found comfort in knowing that he could help the volunteers searching through debris and assisting response teams, many of whom were former residents of the stricken area looking for missing loved ones and their belongings.

“Many of the volunteers are people who used to live here, and they can try and find their peace of mind and closure from this without getting ill in the process,” Cutler said.

Private Ann Marie Gonzalez, who had served in the Guard only two months prior to the mudslide, said she was glad when she received the call from her unit to report to the site because she really wanted to help.

Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Crisp coordinates the arrival of the Search and Extraction element of the Washington National Guard at the site of the Oso Mudslide on March 26. Crisp served as the liaison officer for the Washington National Guard with the Snohomish County Emergency Operations Center. (Washington National Guard photo by: MAJ Tawny Dotson, Washington Air National Guard Public Affairs Officer)

Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Crisp coordinates the arrival of the Search and Extraction element of the Washington National Guard at the site of the Oso mudslide on March 26. CWO Crisp served as the liaison officer for the Washington National Guard with the Snohomish County Emergency Operations Center. (Washington National Guard photo by: MAJ Tawny Dotson, Washington Air National Guard Public Affairs Officer)

“It’s really humbling to see everything, to experience it and be able to help out,” Gonzalez said.

Recovery teams also helped to find personal papers, photos, children’s toys and even a horse saddle that the 790th was able to decontaminate and return.

If you, too, would like to help your community as an Army National Guard Citizen-Soldier® when tough situations occur, visit our jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original article written by Chelsea Barber, 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center, and published on NationalGuard.mil.

Members of the Washington National Guard conducted a grid-based surface search from the west side of the Oso landslide. More than 70 members of the National Guard were involved in search and recovery efforts. (Washington National Guard photo)

Members of the Washington National Guard conducted a grid-based surface search from the west side of the Oso mudslide. More than 70 members of the National Guard were involved in search and recovery efforts. (Washington National Guard photo)

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