On the last Monday of May every year, the United States of America pauses to remember and honor our soldiers who died in service to this country. It is right and appropriate that we do so. When Congress made the day into a three-day weekend under the National Holiday Act of 1971, many people felt that the day lost its meaning. It became just another day off from work. The celebration of Memorial Day became nonchalant at best. The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) protested that the act undermined the very meaning of the day.
This morning the Weather Channel called this holiday the unofficial kickoff of summer. I wonder if any people headed to the beaches stopped to think what their lives might be like if no one were willing to fight to preserve life as we know it. Probably not. We get too involved in our day-to-day lives to bother with patriotism. Are we teaching it to our children in any way? I wonder.
I grew up in a world trying to recover from World War II, and the nation was quite patriotic. Citizens remembered well. The war was still fresh in their minds. A great surge of patriotism came with 9/11 also. American flags sprouted all across the country from sea to shining sea, but it’s been ten years now since this attack on the homeland. Are we forgetting so soon?
Rarely do I long for the good old days of my childhood because those days were not particularly good, but they were indeed different. My father served in the army during World War II, but he married and had a family only after he came back. He refused to leave a widow behind to raise their children. He waited until after the war for a family.
My uncles also wore the olive drab of the army and fought overseas. I do realize that the draft threw them into the military, but they were nonetheless proud to serve. The mentality was different back then, or it seems so to me as I reflect.
I remember Uncle Jack, who served in the Korean War, standing at our door in his uniform. I was absolutely certain he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen in all the years of my life. I solemnly promised to help Mama make cakes for him, a promise I kept faithfully until he returned. I carefully placed every single pecan on every chocolate cake she made for him, and I chose only the unbroken pieces for his cake. I wanted only our best for him.
Today it seems that few remember the meaning of this holiday at all. The actual beginning is hazy. Some say it started with southern women honoring their Confederate dead. Others attribute it to northerners coming together to honor theirs, but it was General John A. Logan who said it was not important at all when Memorial Day was established. It wasn’t about division, but reconciliation. It was a day for every one to honor those who gave their all. As national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, he officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 to be the first Memorial Day. On that day flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
We’ve moved away from this solemn tribute over the years, but a movement is afoot to change that. To help re-educate and remind us of its purpose, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed in December of 2000 to try to rectify the problem. The resolution asks that all Americans stop whatever they are doing at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or to listen to ‘Taps.’”
It is essential that we remember. Our freedom itself depends on it.