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Memorial Day: the meaning of the holiday

by Minden Press-Herald

For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, but for others, it is a time to remember loved ones who fought and died for one of the greatest nations on Earth.

Webster Parish Historian John Agan says the beginnings of Memorial Day started after the Civil War to remember those who died on the battlefield. It was formerly known as Decoration Day.

“The only clear fact is that it does seem to have begun in the Civil War era,” Agan said, “but I do think it needs to be made clear the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Memorial Day is supposed to be to remember those who died or were killed while in service, not just those who served, but folks seem not to get the difference.”

For Cindy and Jerry Madden, who lost their son in Iraq, Memorial Day is about remembering Josh and honoring his legacy.
“Memorial Day is really hard for me,” Cindy Madden said. “It always falls around Josh’s birthday, which is Sunday (May 24), and he would have been 30 had he lived. It’s a combination of not having Josh with us and the fact that he was killed the way he was that makes it tough.”

She says it’s difficult because she sees people celebrating Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer, and people forget the real reason the day is set aside.

“When they desecrate the flag, that’s hard,” she said. “That it’s allowed. I just have a hard time with the fact that he died for our freedom to display the flag and be proud of America. In so many instances nowadays, they are not only desecrating the flag, but thereby desecrating the United States. I think we are moving too far away from what our country is based on.”

Josh Madden was killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006, leaving behind a wife and small son. A few years ago, the interchange at the Interstate 20 Minden/Sibley exit was named the Joshua Madden Interchange in his honor.

“I know that Josh willingly went to war,” she said. “He signed up because of 9/11; I know that he felt like this was his mission in life to do. He died knowing that this is what he would die for. I know in this particular case, he chose this. I just hope that people remember the real reason why we have Memorial Day.”

She says it’s great that families get together and cook out and celebrate, because Josh would have wanted families to get together and have time together.

“It’s just the families of the ones that know they’ll never come back,” she said. “We enjoy being with our family, but he’ll never come back. It’s not just this generation, but we seem to have become aware of the sacrifice our soldiers have made, and we actively honor them now. We didn’t do this for Vietnam vets or other conflicts that were not popular in the United States. I think this should be a day we honor all of our vets and keep aware that there’s men who have died all the way back from the Revolutionary War to keep this country together.”

Col. Sherb Sentell, Army Reserves, says Memorial Day is a day of reflection, a time to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country.

“It’s a day I reflect, and we think about those people that we’ve lost,” he said. “(I think about) how a bullet fired around the world changes so many lives here in the United States – whether it’s a roadside bomb or whatever, it just impacts lives throughout the United States. It’s a day of reflection, and it’s humbling.

“As you celebrate Memorial Day with your family and friends, you’re thinking about how they’re remembering the great times but the sadness that comes along with a loss like that.”

Sentell says he and his family are close to the Maddens and admires the family for their strength.

“Their strength is very humbling,” he said. “We’ve had so many that have made the ultimate sacrifice and it’s a time of really deep reflection to honor those veterans who have died in service.”

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