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Eric Douglas: Memorial Day -- a moment of remembrance

Memorial Day became an official American holiday in 1971 to honor the men and women who died in service to the United States.

The earliest Memorial Day celebrations began immediately after the Civil War. That war took the lives of nearly 500,000 Americans; the total population of the United States was only 33,500,000 in 1860. By contrast, just over 400,000 Americans died in World War II, when the total population had swelled by nearly 100 million to 132,100,000.

Altogether, more than 1.1 million Americans have died in during American wars. That doesn’t include those injured in combat.

For many people, Memorial Day is the beginning of summer, or the day the pools open, but often people can’t tell you what we are supposed to “remember” on Memorial Day.

One reason for the slip in focus is that fewer people serve in the military, especially by percentage of the population. During World War II, about 12 percent of the country served in the Armed Forces. Today, that number is less than 1 percent of the population; about 1.3 million on Active Duty and another 1 million in the Reserves. We are just less likely to know someone who is actively serving in the military and even less likely to have lost a friend or loved one, especially compared to a generation or two ago.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten about the National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day until recently.

On December 28, 2000, President Clinton signed into law, S 3181 “the “National Moment of Remembrance Act,’’ which designates 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance, in honor of the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.

The act also establishes a White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance, to coordinate and encourage commemorative events on Memorial Day each year, and a Remembrance Alliance, to assist the Commission in promoting the observance of the Memorial Day holiday and organizing an annual White House Conference on the National Moment of Remembrance.” The act was assigned the designation of Public Law No. 106-579.

So, enjoy your time with family and friends. Go to the pool and relax in the sun (but don’t forget your sunscreen). Take a minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to remember those who have fought and died for our country. That’s all anyone asks. It’s not that difficult.

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit or contact him at


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