The Importance of Memorial Day

May 20, 2022

President’s Message By Joseph R. Williams

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser held by the Young Lawyers Division for Operation MVP. Founded by Past YLD Chair Marla Presley in 2009, MVP stands for Military & Veterans Project and seeks to recognize and serve our current military personnel and veterans. The YLD’s efforts have included a “Books for Troops” project sending over 3,500 books to active military personnel, as well as an annual “Pack a Box” program whereby supplies and items representing home are sent to current service-members. The project is currently co-chaired by YLD members Kelly McGovern and Leah Zawasky.

Hearing more about the YLD’s current efforts to support our troops caused me to reflect on the incredible sacrifice made by those who have served our country. As we approach the Memorial Day holiday, I realized that, like many Americans, I take for granted that my freedoms and liberties have not been guaranteed, but something for which others have fought. Indeed, Memorial Day is more than just a long weekend full of hot dogs and potato salad to kick off the start of summer.

Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day. It originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday has evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Since 1775, over 1.3 million American soldiers have died in wars involving the United States. The vast majority of these fatalities resulted from two wars, with approximately 620,000 deaths of American military during the Civil War and around 415,000 deaths in World War II. In addition to those military personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, millions of others have sacrificed time away from loved ones and other opportunities in order to serve our country. The sacrifices do not stop when they return home. A significant number of wartime veterans – 44% who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to one survey – say that they have experienced problems readjusting after their return.

Some of the most significant issues related to readjustment are health related. A considerable number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Other common problems include posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, problematic alcohol use, and thoughts of suicide. Many veterans suffer from more than one health condition. In addition, many women and men experienced sexual trauma, including harassment and assaults, while in the military. That can have both mental and physical effects.

As lawyers, we pride ourselves in the fight that we do on behalf of our clients. Let us remember and respect those who have fought for us. For starters, this Memorial Day we can follow the intended rituals of the occasion. The American flag should be hung at half-staff until Noon on Memorial Day and then raised to the top of the staff. Also, in 2000 the United States Congress passed legislation encouraging all Americans to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

We can also find ways to support our veterans and active military. If you would like to donate to Operation MVP, reach out to Kelly McGovern at or Leah Zawasky at