For Memorial Day, honoring the ultimate sacrifice

Stories of amazing and unusual valor in service of country

By Jeanette Steele | 10:56 a.m. May 27, 2016

The modern idea of Memorial Day in the United States arose after the Civil War, the conflict that has spilled the most American blood.

After more than 620,000 soldiers perished, the still-young nation turned its thoughts toward honoring the graves of its war dead.

May was chosen because that’s when spring flowers are at their peak bloom.

The leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, an association of Union Army veterans, was a driving force.

“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic,” Gen. John Logan wrote to his followers in 1868.


After World War I, a conflict that claimed more than 400,000 American lives, the day was expanded to honor all U.S. war dead.

Finally, in 1971, Congress pegged the national holiday known as Memorial Day to the last Monday of each May.

This series of stories tells the stories of nearly three dozen Americans who went into battlefields and displayed great courage.


Their lives sketch U.S. history from the days before and during the Civil War, when Alonzo Hereford Cushing refused to stop fighting at Gettysburg, to Iraq this month, when Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV died while trying to rescue Kurdish fighters.


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