World War II veteran Jesse R. Turner embraces Helen Marie Misel at a display of over more than 1,700 United States flags in Shawnee, Kan. (Orlin Wagner/AP) Memorial Day is a federal holiday to honor all Americans who have died fighting the country’s wars while serving in the U.S. armed forces. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the first official observance was on May 28, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. By the 20th century, the holiday was extended to all soldiers who had fallen in all American wars.

 soldiers and hold up their triumphs on the battlefield as glorious; others reveal the ugliness of combat and condemn war as man’s great folly.

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen (written 1917-18)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori .
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