Memorial Day is one of the most anticipated holidays of the 10 federal legal holidays the U.S. observes. It’s also the unofficial start of summer, but we should be aware of its historical significance and its true meaning.

For most of us, our parents and grandparents fought in World War II, so we can enjoy all those Memorial Day cookouts and family get-togethers. That generation of soldiers, servicemen and servicewomen also served our great country in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Our parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or cousins did likewise in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror.

We owe all those who served a great debt of gratitude for our freedom. While we enjoy those hamburgers, hot dogs and brats, take some time on Monday to reflect on all those we lost in those wars and conflicts.

Officially, Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Gen. John Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Locally, there will be a number of events, including events at Kankakee Memorial Gardens, the Kankakee County Courthouse, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood and at the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno.

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