PRINCETON, WV (WVNS)–Memorial Day is a widely celebrated holiday where people enjoy lake days, grilling, parades and the unofficial beginning of summer– but what is Memorial Day really all about?

The modern Memorial Day observance began shortly after the Civil War where more than 600,000 Americans died.  The government established national cemeteries where people mourned the lives lost with flowers, tributes and prayers. 

It became a solemn remembrance for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives and a way for the living to heal the wounds left from war. 

Tony Whitlow is a 90-year-old war veteran who said one of the reasons he created the Those Who Served War Museum is to remember and honor every life and every death resulting from war.

“They won’t have died in vain,” said Whitlow. “We are going to remember them and I am going to tell their stories as long as I’m around.”

Within the museum, Whitlow formed an entire memorial room for those who served from Mercer County specifically. Whitlow wanted to dedicate a permanent place for families to visit and see their loved ones, while also reminding others of their sacrifice.

“Most of them were 18, 19, 20 years old,” said Whitlow. “It’s a young life just beginning and of course it’s gone now, but we will remember them not only on Memorial Day but everyday of the year.”

Whitlow said the fallen deserve to be remembered, and we should be thankful everyday for the hardships they went through so that we may live peacefully.

“The past is what has guaranteed us our freedom that we enjoy today,” said Whitlow. “These men and women that went to war to ensure that we have our freedom and that we can enjoy our lives.”

Overall, Memorial Day is not just a day off work to have fun– it’s a day we set aside to take in our freedom, be grateful it exists and never forget that it came at a heavy price.