By Carole Kelly
Defining the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day highlighted a presentation by Major General Cris Crisler at a recent First Baptist Church Forever Young meeting. His experiences enhanced the informative, inspiring thoughts for the upcoming Memorial Day observation May 29. Introduced by Dennis Daniels, senior adult minister, Crisler, who has been retired for eight years, served thirty-six years with the Air Force and the Mississippi Air National Guard.
Memorial Day, observed the last Monday in May, honors those who died in military service.
“It is not a day of celebration, but a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of our freedom,” stated Crisler. Reviewing its history, he pointed out that Memorial Day dates back to post-Civil War years, when citizens informally placed spring flower memorials on the graves of fallen soldiers. It was first known as Decoration Day. Different versions tell how the day began, with one explanation stating that grieving families from both the North and the South began decorating the fallen soldiers’ graves. Another suggests that a Mississippi remembrance may have begun the Decoration Day observation. Congress officially recognized Memorial Day as a federal holiday in 1887.
Discussing the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Crisler pointed out that in November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first commemoration of Armistice Day, which preceded a 1939 act that made it a legal holiday on November 11 each year. In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, veterans’ organizations called upon Congress to amend the act and call it Veterans Day, to honor American veterans of all wars for their patriotism.
Crisler emphasized that Veterans Day should not be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the services of all military veterans who have served; Memorial Day is a somber day to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, dying while in service.
Over fifty million Americans have served the country in the military since 1776, and nearly 1.3 million veterans have died in combat defending their beliefs and freedoms. Quoting generals and presidents as well as other world leaders, Crisler noted the importance of being grateful as a nation for the men and women who shared a common characteristic – taking an oath to defend this country with their lives.
The impressive examples of bravery and dedication to service shared by Crisler included actions of prisoners of war who unflinchingly faced their captors; a brave chaplain who was armed not with a rifle but with a Bible and Holy Water; a veteran quietly serving as a janitor at the Air Force Academy who was a Medal of Honor recipient; and a President who honored wounded veterans aboard an incoming air evacuation plane.
The President and Air Force One story came from Crisler’s own experience. From 2005 to 2012, his unit, the 172nd Airlift Wing in Jackson, flew air evacuation missions, transporting over 50,000 injured service members from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East areas.
Grateful for his thirty-six-year career, Crisler declares he was blessed to be on flight status which led him all over the world.
“I have had the privilege in the military to work with some of the most amazing and extraordinary people I have ever known,” he said. Major impacts on his life included church and salvation, family, and his time in the military that helped him in every aspect of his life striving to be a better person.
“Memorial Day and Veterans Day serve to celebrate the strength, courage and dedication of our veterans who have shaped the world in an effort to instill long-lasting peace and liberty,” said Crisler, adding that lessons about life and the treatment of others can be seen in veterans’ service. “We honor and remember these veterans who are all around us.” He encourages everyone to talk with them, hear their stories, and thank them for what they have done for the country.