Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day ~More than Just the Beginning of Summer

Memorial Day ~More than Just the Beginning of Summer 

For many Americans, the Memorial Day weekend is just a three day weekend that begins the summer holiday season with treks to the beach, cookouts, the Indy 500 and NASCAR races.  But the holiday began as Decoration Day, a commemoration of those who fought and died on both sides in the American Civil War.  To honor their sacrifices family members, veterans groups and volunteers decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers or flags.

Decoration Day morphed into Memorial Day after World War II, but did not become an official federal holiday until 1968. Yet I remember the Memorial Day commemorations of my childhood. There would be parades in the small towns across the country with veterans marching in their old uniforms, to remind us of the costs of war. Politicians gave speeches at military cemeteries. Families took flowers to decorate the graves of all loved ones.  Visiting the cemetery was at least an annual ritual. We went as a family and read the epitaphs on the tombstones of recently lost loved ones, long departed family members which bestowed upon us a sense of connection with the past, and strangers long dead from another century that instilled in us an appreciation of and connection to local history, the reminder that a lifetime is limited and to be celebrated in the present. Cemeteries were awash in the colors of spring.  

It seems that today parents try to shield their children from death, funerals, memorial services, and cemetery visits. But that keeps young people from learning to accept that death is part of life or from giving them a peaceful place to just be, remember, and contemplate lost loved ones.

Recapture the spirit of Memorial Day. Read about its origins. Honor a veteran. Visit the grave of an ancestor. Donate to Rolling Thunder® or watch the annual Ride for Freedom (this year is the 27th) of more than 500,000 bikers who ride to Washington, D.C. every Memorial Day to raise awareness of MIAs and POWs. It is a moving and powerful testament.

It is great to celebrate a long weekend, enjoy the races and cookouts and the beach. However, we have a duty as citizens of our republic to remember the reason for the holiday. It is the gratitude to those who gave us our freedoms that we hold so dear.

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