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County Connections: The Ways to Honor Fallen Service Members

May 20, 2022 09:12AM ● By Laura Durenberger

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By: Karen Christianson, Cook County Veterans Service Officer - May 20, 2022

“The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.” – Jeff Miller, Former US Representative, Florida

In the excitement of a 3-day weekend, cookouts, parades and summer being so near, it is easy to ignore or forget about the true meaning of Memorial Day: to remember and honor all military personnel who have died in the service of our country. Let us never forget the sacrifices of our fallen and their families and to keep those who gave everything to protect our country at the forefront of our mind during our celebrations.

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our nation in their service with the U.S. Military. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began after the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865. The Civil War claimed more lives (620,000 or more) than any other conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. People mourning their loss began to lay flowers and place flags on the graves of the fallen. 

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War Veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. He chose May 30 as a day to decorate the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lay in the churchyards of almost every city, village, and hamlet in the country. May 30 was chosen by General Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any specific battle. He called it Decoration Day.

The origin of the current name of the holiday is unclear, but in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. The city established their Memorial Day on May 5, 1866.  Decoration Day originally honored only those lost in the Civil War, but during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate all American military personnel who died in all wars. In 1968 Congress officially declared Memorial Day a federal holiday and established it as the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend for federal employees. Let us never forget why Memorial Day exists and take time to honor our fallen Veterans. Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. Please take a moment to remember those who sacrificed their lives for your freedom.

The American Legion Post 413 will hold a short program on the lawn of the Cook County Courthouse at the Veterans Memorial. The program will begin at 11 a.m. Following the program at noon, our local American Legion Auxiliary Unit 413 will host a free meal for Veterans and their spouses at the Birch Terrace Supper Club.

Before taking this position, I had been working with children 6 and under for the past 8 years. As I started writing this article, I naturally began to think of activities on how we can teach children about Memorial Day. For many kids and adults, it means the end of the school year. As parents and guardians it is our job to educate them about the importance of this wonderful holiday.

Memorial Day is a great time to build patriotism in your child’s mind and to show them why our country is the greatest on earth. Making it a history lesson can be boring to young children. So how can we make them understand that the day is about the men and women who have died for our country? It is about traditions. With kids, traditions are really what we make them. If we place importance on an annual event, they will do the same. Some ways to do this can be talking about family members who are currently in or have passed away in the service to our country.

  • Visit a family member’s grave. Use this time to clean up around the grave site, place a flag or flowers there and talk about the person who lays in rest there. Maybe you or your child were named after this person. What a great way to celebrate that person’s life and how important they are to the family.
  • Bust out the family photo albums, yes photo albums. You may have pictures of places where the veteran was stationed, visited, people they served with, and the activities they participated in. There’s always at least one fun or embarrassing picture to put a smile on everyone’s face. I know I have more than one. Your child may see something in your home in a picture. What a great way to make a connection to that person.
  • Get out the paper, paints, crayons, glue, scissors, etc. for Arts and Crafts. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home in red, white and blue. Some fun things to make are flags, suncatchers, windsocks and wreaths.
  • After a long and busy day of celebrations, it’s time to unwind. A great way to do this would be reading a book before bed. Replace the usual book for one that celebrates Memorial Day. Here are a few titles suggested by various organizations: “The Wall,” “The Poppy Lady,” “A Day for Rememberin’,” and “Rolling Thunder.”

I encourage all Veterans to connect with their County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) to determine if they are eligible for any state or federal Veterans benefits. When discharged, a Veterans first stop should be to their local County Recorder’s Office to record their DD214. The second stop should be to their County Veterans Service Office to check on available benefits. No matter what the age of the Veteran, it is always best practice to record your discharge papers and talk to your CVSO about benefits you may be eligible for. If you are not eligible for state or federal benefits, there may be other programs you could be connected to that are offered to Veterans through a variety of organizations dedicated to helping Veterans in need.

To contact your CVSO for Cook County, Karen Christianson, call 218-387-3639 and leave a brief message.  Office hours are Monday – Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00. 

Have a very safe and enjoyable Memorial Day.


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.

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