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Memorial Day a unique event in month of commemorations

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May is a month of beginnings.

The soil is plowed, and seeds are planted. In Northern New York, trees bud slowly and gradually produce their green and graceful leaves.

Apple, cherry and flowering dogwood trees blossom, dotting the landscape in a riot of color. Crocuses, tulips, violets, lilacs and countless early flowers shine forth in their good time.

Something ends and something begins. New college graduates bid their institutions farewell and look to the next chapter of their lives. Joyous ceremonies mark this passage; graduation speakers strive to find words that illumine the moment and convey their truth.

May is a time of celebration. May Day, May 1, signifies the advent of spring and in some cultures is a holiday that heralds the warm season with maypoles and flower baskets. May 1 is also International Workers Day — a celebration of labor and the contributions of workers.

Mexican-Americans observe Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the “Fifth of May,” a holiday that remembers the Mexican army’s triumph over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The victory is credited with halting French support of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Thus, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of freedom and democracy in some parts of the American West.

On May 11, Americans gave flowers and cards to their mothers on Mother’s Day, a holiday that was first celebrated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis of Grafton, W.Va., recognized her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had recently died. Anna Jarvis sought a national holiday that would honor “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

The idea caught on, and President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 creating Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May to honor mothers. While the focus of the day remains on one’s own mother, the day has evolved as an occasion to appreciate motherhood in general and mothers’ impact on society.

All these events are enhanced by the beauty of May. So it is with one of our most poignant and meaningful holidays: Memorial Day.

Many words come to mind: Service. Dedication. Reverence. Respect. Honor. Mourning. Remembrance. Gratitude. Love. Hope. All are associated with this day set aside to remember and appreciate men and women of the armed forces who died while serving our country.

Numbers add perspective. The American Civil War claimed 625,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Before that, 25,000 patriots fell in the Revolutionary War, 15,000 in the War of 1812 and 13,283 in the Mexican-American War.

Countless Americans answered the call to service in the 20th century: 116,516 American soldiers were killed in World War I, 405,399 in World War II. The Korean War took 36,516 American lives, the Vietnam conflict 58,178.

Throughout history, Americans have felt an acute need to honor those who have placed themselves in peril and lost the precious gift of life in the defense of our country. Today our ceremonies, prayers and commemorations honor as well American men and women who served and died in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially the members of the 10th Mountain Division, our friends and neighbors.

While observing Memorial Day, it should be remembered that we are currently at war and that members of the armed services and their families sacrifice daily on behalf of us all.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those whose love of country, sense of duty and selfless courage led them to do extraordinary deeds in the name of freedom.

The price they paid was too much to ask of anyone, and we cannot repay it. But we can honor and remember those brave Americans who gave their all to protect American democracy, our cherished ideals and our way of life.

This day in May offers the opportunity to keep faith with them, to remember with gratefulness and look forward in hope.

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