Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day in 1868, in Decatur, Ill., when an organization of Union veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic founded it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of Revolutionary War and American Civil War dead with flowers.

“Decoration Day” changed to “Memorial Day” in 1882. The new term become more common after World War II, and named so by federal law in 1967.

While Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, replete with sales and vacation weekends, it remains a key ceremonial holiday of our “civil religion.”

Unique to all other world powers throughout history, we are not comprised of a single ethnicity, nor a single religion. Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, Sunni or Shi’ite, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Taoist, agnostic or atheist; indigenous, the descendent of generations of immigrants or newly naturalized, an “American” is one who subscribes to our “civil religion’s” core beliefs: Equality under the rule of law, personal liberty and devotion to our “sacred” texts: The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the subsequent amendments. No citizen, no legislator, no judge and no president is above the law.

Sometimes that belief requires the ultimate sacrifice on the field of battle abroad or on American soil. Circumstances aside, a letter sent to Mrs. Lydia Bixby on Nov. 21, 1861, best captures the value of that sacrifice as the most powerful elected person of our nation demonstrated he, his office and the nation are subservient to the honor of who have served and died to preserve the
Great Experiment — ensuring  a nation of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth:

“I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.

“But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

“Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

“A. Lincoln.”

This Memorial Day, honor our fallen.