I don’t know what you’re doing this Memorial Day, but chances are it will bear little resemblance to the reason we observe it.

Whether you consider it the official start of summer, or the time to get a great deal on an appliance, the origins of the holiday can be traced to one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. The first one took place in May of 1868 — 3 years after the end of the Civil War.

The Civil War claimed the lives of an estimated 750,000 American soldiers. To put that in perspective, that is roughly half of all the lives lost in every other war and conflict combined since we became a country.

On that first Decoration Day, observers decorated the graves of some 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The name of the holiday was officially changed to Memorial Day around the time of World War I, and was expanded to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during any conflict.

During World War II, more than 400,000 American soldiers lost their lives. Of those fatalities, nearly 300,000 of them occurred during active combat.

There is one parallel between the Civil War and World War II that is as surprising as it is sobering. An average of 420 soldiers a day lost their lives during the Civil War. Today, it’s estimated we are losing World War 2 veterans at roughly the same rate, according to statistics provided by The National WWII Museum. 

We are fortunate to still have with us, about 1,000 World War II veterans in Alaska, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. But we are losing our greatest generation at an accelerated rate.

At 73,000, we have the highest rate of veterans per capita of any state in the country. About 1 in 10 Alaskans served in the armed forces.

And though we are currently in a period when U.S. combat deaths are rare, the men and women of our armed forces remain at a higher risk of death or injury than the rest of us,because — let’s put it this way — their work environment is typically more hazardous than our own.

Chances are few of us will recognize Memorial Day by decorating the graves of our national heroes.

And I don’t say that to make anyone feel guilty, or less patriotic. The fact is, those we honor on Monday gave their lives so that we could enjoy the very freedoms we’ll exercise this weekend.

The least we can do is to take a moment, at some point on Monday, to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and if given the chance, thank those in uniform today who are prepared to do the same.

John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.

The post Reality Check w/ John Tracy: The real reason to observe Memorial Day appeared first on KTVA 11.