by Lowman S. Henry | May 19, 2004

And Pennsylvania ‘s sons and daughters are paying the price


That’s how many new reasons you have for spending at least a bit more time than usual reflecting on the meaning of Memorial Day this year.

Memorial Day is many things to many people. It is the unofficial beginning of the summer season, the day you can start wearing white and not be considered a fashion Neanderthal. Bargain hunters will celebrate the day by getting an extra 20% off Wal-Mart’s already low, low prices. For the school-aged set, it’s a day off that previews the lazy, hazy days of summer which lie just ahead.

Pennsylvania occupies a unique place in the history of our republic. This land of freedom began in the old statehouse in Philadelphia , now known as Independence Hall. From its steps were read the poetic words of the Declaration of Independence, and it was in that city where America’s founding fathers crafted the Constitution which still guides our nation.

Years later, in the tiny hamlet of Boalsburg located just outside of State College in Center County , Pennsylvania , village lore holds that a teen-aged girl named Emma Hunter and her friend Sophie Keller gathered flowers to put on the grave of her father who had served as a surgeon in the Union Army. As it turns out that same day an older woman, Elizabeth Meyer, was at that same cemetery to place flowers on the grave of her son, who was killed on the last day of the battle at Gettysburg .

As chronicled by National Republic Magazine the two women, united in grief that day and decided to come together one year hence to keep alive the memory of their loved ones. To make a long story short, by the time that year went by the idea had swept through the small town of Boalsburg and the entire community gathered on July 4, 1865 for what was arguably the nation’s first ever Memorial Day service.

Individual acts of remembrance in Boalsburg and countless other communities across the nation eventually became more organized. The first official recognition of the event came on May 5, 1868 when General John Logan, national commander of the Army of the Republic proclaimed May 30, 1868 as a day to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery .

First known as Decoration Day, the tradition grew to honor the brave Americans of all wars and conflicts who have given their lives in defense of liberty. When the National Holiday Act was passed in 1971, Memorial Day officially was established as a nationwide observance to take place on the last Monday in May.

But, the fact Memorial Day had its origins in Pennsylvania is not one of the 46 reasons why we residents of the Keystone state should pay extra attention this year.

On May 17 th , Major General Jessica Wright, Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, spoke at a dinner ending the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcaster’s annual convention in Hershey. In her remarks she took great care to point out that 44 sons and daughters of Pennsylvania have lost their lives in Iraq and around the world over the past year.

Make that 46.

Almost as General Wright spoke two National Guard soldiers from western Pennsylvania , were killed near Fallujah , Iraq . Specialist Carl F. Curran, II, 22, of Union City , and Specialist Mark J. Kasecky, 20, of McKees Rocks, became the first soldiers from the 1 st Battalion, 107 th Field Artillery killed in action since World War II.

Between Private Amos Meyer, whose mother’s solitary act of remembrance took place in Boalsburg that day in 1864, to specialists Carl F. Curran, II and Mark J. Kasecky in May of 2004, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and hundreds of thousands of American have given their lives in defense of freedom all across the world.

This year, when you sit down at your Memorial Day picnic, take at least a few minutes to reflect on the fact that at 46 other picnic tables in Pennsylvania there will be an empty place. And thank them, and their families, for paying the ultimate price for the blessings of liberty that you enjoy.