Millions of Americans just spent a relaxing or enjoyable weekend, welcoming summer, wrapping up the school year and graduation ceremonies, and heading out on long weekend mini-trips and even stay-cations, firing up the barbecue, opening up the community pool...or simply tossing back a few with family and friends. All of that is a good thing, and we could all probably use a few more miles of smiles following two years and change of this ongoing pandemic.
But this weekend also contains one of our nation’s most sacred and somber remembrances, and that too should not be forgotten. Memorial Day is more than just a hangover Monday on the first long weekend of summer, it’s the official day of recognition, pause and reflection as well as for saluting the sacrifice and memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our many freedoms as Americans. While Veterans Day, during the 11th month, 11th day, and 11:00 a.m hour (November 11 @ 11), recognizes ALL service veterans and active-duty personnel, Memorial Day is focused on those who lost their lives on the field of battle.
It was April 25, 1866, when Confederate war widows organized the first Memorial Day ceremonies in Columbus, Georgia, and Columbus, Mississippi. The two southern towns still wrestle with whose commemoration came first, but whichever way you slice it, it was the ‘losing side’ during America’s Civil War which began the practice of giving thanks, pausing, and remembering those whom they lost, during what was then (and still remains) America’s bloodiest conflict and the largest loss of life.
The Union side would later begin a national day of remembrance, called Decoration Day. It would not be until 1968 that Congress would move Memorial Day, along with four other national holidays from their traditional dates of observance to four calendar-fixed Mondays. In the case of Memorial Day, that date is now the last Monday in May.
This of course joined a series of other three-day federal holiday weekends and framed Memorial Day weekend as a bookend to the beginning of summer, with the Labor Day weekend set to end it. And again, rightly so, millions of Americans would begin to plan family vacations, reunions, and times that would not fit into normal two-day weekends atop these three-day celebrations.
But somewhere, in the shuffle, some of these holidays lost their focus/reason for being and they somewhat blended in with other occasions and holidays like Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, or Valentine’s Day... and Memorial Day celebrations became more known for barbecues and brews than moments of remembrance.
So in 2000, Congress passed the National Remembrance Act, which asks all Americans to pause and reflect at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, this year again on Monday, May 30th. Take a moment of pause, prayer, and reflection in remembrance and appreciation for the sacrifices of the millions of men and women in uniform in all American service branches for giving their all in support of the cause of American freedom and liberty.
The federal statute calls for flying all flags at half-mast from dawn until after 3 p.m., and then after Memorial Day commemoration services, returning all flags to full staff. Along with a silent salute, it seems a very small price to pay, in recognition of the many who, along with their families, paid this ultimate price.
I’m not suggesting that the Memorial Day Weekend be turned into an extended family visitation, funeral dirge, or graveyard visit, just simply that we each take a moment of reflection and thanks on Monday. One of my own personal life regrets is not having served our nation in uniform. With my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (paternal) as well as my maternal grandfather each serving in a branch of the military, my gratitude for the service of others has always been significant, and I try to express that in many ways throughout each year. And the importance of simply saying, “Thank you for your service,” always remains top of mind.
So, go ahead pack your sunscreen and the cooler, and welcome back the longer days and mosquitoes...but don’t forget to take a moment to remember how we are all still able to enjoy so much for so long... God bless America as well as you and yours.
©2022 Cox Media Group