It’s important part of our nation’s history that for the first official Memorial Day observance, flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Occurring three years after the end of the Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln, it was a way, in Lincoln’s words, to “bind up the nation’s wounds.”

The date was May 30, 1868.

Gen. John A. Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans group formed after the Civil War, proclaimed the commemoration, which originally was called Decoration Day.

By 1890, Decoration Day was recognized in all of the northern states. The South didn’t take part, designating separate holidays to honor its Civil War dead. It was only after World War I that Memorial Day became a truly national holiday, adopting its current name and theme: honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

Today, the post-Civil War antipathy between North and South is mostly forgotten.

Unfortunately, the solemn purpose of Memorial Day is often overlooked in the pleasures of a three-day weekend that unofficially marks the start of summer.

So, between today’s barbecues and other outings, take a moment to remember that more than 650,000 Americans have died in battle since the Revolutionary War, including those who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict.

We honor their service and sacrifice — and that of all their fallen comrades.

You can see the names of Sonoma County’s war dead on a monument installed several years go outside City Hall in Santa Rosa. It would be worth a visit.

On this Memorial Day, we also want to salute the men and women who served in World War II and returned home to share the benefits of the Allied victory. The youngest are now in their 80s, and, with each year, fewer remain to share their experiences, on and off the battlefield. If you know one of these veterans, say thank you and ask for their stories.

To honor those veterans who already have passed, American flags will mark hundreds of graves at Santa Rosa Memorial Park and other cemeteries in Sonoma County and across the United States.

Ceremonies are planned today at Santa Rosa Memorial Park beginning at 10 a.m. and about a dozen other locations in Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino and Lake counties. For a complete list, go to pressdemocrat.com. Americans also are asked that, wherever they are, to pause at 3 p.m. today for a National Moment of Remembrance. This one-minute long moment of silence was established by Congress as unified expression of gratitude to those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy.

They paid the cost. Remembering them is the least we can do.