VFW Commander reminds public that Memorial Day is about the ultimate sacrifice of soldiers

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Memorial Day is approaching and with it, comes some misunderstanding about the true purpose of the day, said Hosea Bennett, the commander of VFW Post 628 John M Bliss in Sioux Falls.

“We get a lot of misconceptions. People think Memorial Day is about all veterans and so forth. It is to an extent. But it is about the loss,” Bennett said. “All of our men and women of the armed forces that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country. That’s what the Memorial Day is really about. It’s not about us who are living.”

Bennett said veterans such as himself, appreciate that the public supports them and thinks of them, but on Memorial Day, it’s more appropriate to remember and honor those who died in service.

“We just try to do our best to educate on which holiday is or recognition day is,” Bennett said.

Bennett said veterans will try to educate the public about Memorial Day and how it differs from Veterans Day or Armed Services Day.

From World War I through the War on Terrorism, more than 3,000 South Dakotans have died in active service, according to the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. The department said 1,614 soldiers died in WWII, the most of any war.

Minnehaha County, the most populous in the state, had 146 casualties while Brookings County had 72.

The chart below is from the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs.

Memorials for soldiers who died in service started after the Civil War, according to the History Channel’s website.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, several cities claim to have started the Memorial Day tradition of honoring soldiers who died in active Civil War service at cemeteries.

Memorial Day first started as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, according to History.com. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month, the website said.

The first Decoration Day service was at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The South Dakota State Historical Society has a record from the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotaian (now Dakotan) from May 25, 1875, that mentions preparations for Memorial Day.

Chelle Somsen, an archivist for the historical society, said the 1875 reference is the earliest reference she found in state archives.

A news clipping from the May 24, 1883, Daily Press and Dakotaian in Yankton. Clip is courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society.
A news clipping from the May 30, 1878, Daily Press and Dakotaian in Yankton. Clip is courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society.

The Grand Army of the Republic had an instrumental role in the establishment of Memorial Day in South Dakota and in the nation, according to several history sites.

“The national GAR also pressured state legislatures to declare Memorial Day a legal holiday. New York became the first state to do so in 1873, with other states quickly following its lead. The legislative assembly of Dakota Territory recognized 30 May as a holiday in 1887. The following year, Congress granted the day as a legal holiday for all federal employees…,” said the 2006 historical society publication “Fellow Comrades: The Grand Army of the Republic in South Dakota” by Stephen P. Morgan.

After World War I, the focus of Memorial Day or Decoration Day expanded to include soldiers who died in active service all wars.

President Harry Truman issued a proclamation for Memorial Day in 1950 asking Americans to pray for peace on that day, according to the U.S. VA.

The day became an official national holiday in 1971.

Memorial Day continues to be a day to honor those who died in active service with services at cemeteries and other sites.

Bennett said the VFW and other organizations place flags at cemeteries and participate in Memorial Day services.

The VFW participates in the Veterans Memorial Park and at the new veterans cemetery in Sioux Falls.

“It’s always great to see support,” Bennett said the public attending Memorial Day services.

While Memorial Day services will vary, Bennett said. There is no set script but “We want to focus on honoring the ones that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Most Memorial Day services will include the playing of “Taps.”

For him “Taps” is a time to reflect on sacrifices and those he lost to active duty.

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