What do you associate with Memorial Day? The unofficial start of Summer? Traffic heading east on the LIE? Barbeques? The Indianapolis 500? Sales at your favorite retail store? How many of us think first of what the day is named for – honoring the memory of those who fell in the service of our country?
Memorial Day evolved from the remembrance of casualties of the Civil War, and was originally called “Decoration Day” after the custom of decorating the graves of war dead and did not assume its now familiar place on the last Monday of May until 1971, when the “Monday holidays” were fixed by Congressional action.
Over the years, the meaning of Memorial Day seems to have faded from the national consciousness. Confused with Veteran’s Day (intended to honor those who served and lived) or tied loosely to “patriotism” if it is observed at all, for many it seems to have lost its special place as an occasion for solemn reflection, remembrance and thanks.
I have tried in some small personal way to preserve some of the true meaning of Memorial Day. Each year, my wife and I walk to a small memorial in our town, dedicated to local men who died in WWII. We quietly read the names and try to stop and reflect on the sacrifice they made to make our lives possible. I put up a flag. I tell my kids to think about what the day means. It’s something.
Here are some things that you might consider:
- Fly a flag
- Visit a national military cemetery and decorate a grave
- Take a few minutes to look through the names and faces of the more recently fallen, as compiled by the New York Times
- Learn something about the day, or one of the fallen
- Observe a moment of silence at 3:00 pm
- Watch this extraordinary story about a man who has memorized the names of all the American service members who were killed in Afghanistan
- Change your mindset from “celebrating” to “observing”
I don’t think it is a bad thing to have a barbeque or take in a ball game, but I believe we have a responsibility to remember those who, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that we can enjoy the comforts and freedoms that we so often take for granted.
What do you think?