Why Memorial Day is Memorial Day

This coming weekend, people around the nation will commemorate Memorial Day.

Please note, I write “commemorate” and don’t use the word “celebrate.”

Memorial Day is not a celebration. It should be a solemn commemoration — a day set aside to remember those men and women who over the years have given their lives while in the service of this nation.

I have a problem with Memorial Day.

Quite frankly, I just don’t quite understand why in realistic terms this is less a day set aside for remembering and is too often just a reason to extend the weekend and party a little longer.

In the past, while listening to any number of Memorial Day speeches made by politicians, civic leaders and other speakers from all walks of life and reading a bundle of newspaper op eds, I’ve found it a little disappointing that people around this country simply don’t seem to know what Memorial Day is all about.

Many politicians, speakers and writers seem to mistake Memorial Day with other holidays.

In an address a couple years ago, President Barack Obama noted that on Memorial Day we Americans need to remember the fallen, to thank veterans for their service and to work together to make sure veterans and service people have the benefits they deserve after serving this nation so loyally.

These are all worthy sentiments, but truth be known, Memorial Day isn’t a day set aside to salute veterans for their past service. Nor is it the day created to thank members of the armed forces for their continuing service.

Memorial Day is Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a legislated national holiday on which the people of these United States are asked to take a few moments from their busy day grilling, water skiing or mowing the lawn to remember that we are here as a nation because others gave their lives in far away conflicts around the globe while protecting their generation and ours.

Memorial Day was actually established as an official holiday in Title 5 of U.S. code (5 U.S.C. § 6103) and the long weekend we now enjoy was created by with a standard Monday observance under Public Act 90-363.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was quite important. We marked it with a half day at Stellwagon Elementary School — on the actual day.

I played drums as the flag was lowered to half staff, and kids silently left the school and headed home. It was an important commemoration in our home, neighborhood and church community. Maybe because so many of our dads served and fought in World War II and the Korean War.

But the traditional observance of Memorial Day seems to have largely petered out and many Americans have simply forgotten the meaning and traditions of this day.

Some towns still hold Memorial Day ceremonies and parades. Others have simply let the tradition of a community salute to the fallen slowly evaporate.

Looking over some past Memorial Day speeches and documents I found a 2000 Presidential Memorandum discussing the National Moment of Remembrance. We read:

“As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.”

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t honor veterans of military service to this nation.

But please understand — they have their day.

Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) made Nov. 11 in each year a legal holiday called “Armistice Day.”

Initially Armistice Day was a day created to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, following both World War II and the Korean War, members of the 83rd Congress, with considerable lobbying by veterans organizations, amended the Act of 1938 changing the word “Armistice” to the word “Veterans.”

With this legislation Veterans Day on Nov. 11, became a day to honor all American veterans throughout the years, in both war and peace.

We should honor our veterans every day. In addition, they also have their legislated holiday and it isn’t Memorial Day.

Those serving on active duty also have their day.

Armed Forces Day is annually celebrated on the third Saturday in May.

This day was established in 1949 and is meant to offer a day for honoring the service of all standing military personnel, in every branch of the armed forces.

We should be honoring this service daily.

But Memorial Day IS NOT the day set aside for doing so.

Memorial Day is the one day in the year during which all Americans are asked to spend at least a little bit of time considering the fact that some men and women around the country gave their lives while doing their duty so that we all could remain continue living in a democratic nation “... dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

It’s Memorial Day. A day to remember the fallen. That’s it.

Editor’s Note: Last week, a reader mailed a copy of a Memorial Day opinion piece I penned a few years back and asked that I reprint it this year. I have done so, with a few minor revisions to make it appropriate to the time and occasion.