Staff column: Getting back to the roots of the day
Memorial Day is just a name for another three day weekend for a lot of people these days. But the real holiday was set up in the late 1860's to honor those that died in the American Civil War, and later it became a time to honor all war dead.
While there was some problems with when the holiday should be held in the early days, and with its name (it was also known as Decoration Day), May 30th was finally settled on as the national holiday. It was on that day every year for nearly 100 years until 1971 when a bill Congress passed in 1968 became federal law. The Uniform Holiday Act moved Washington's birthday to the third Monday in February, Veterans Day to the second Monday in November and Memorial Day to the last Monday before May 30 each year.
At the time Washington's birthday became Presidents Day (largely because Lincoln was also born in February). Veterans Day eventually reverted back to Nov. 11 which often is in the middle of the week.
As for Memorial Day it lost its identity not long after it became part of a three day weekend. Generally it came at a time when students were graduating from high school and college and it was also right at the beginning of the vacation season, so suddenly it became more of a day to go out on the boat or to an amusement park than it was to honor those that lost their lives protecting this country. While lots of people still go to the cemeteries and participate in ceremonies honoring those that have passed, the vast majority have really forgotten about the real reason for the holiday.
How can that be fixed?
Each year Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduces legislation into Congress to change the Memorial Day holiday back to May 30. Each year it doesn't go very far because there are some very strong interests that oppose the change. Memorial Day weekend generates a lot of money for the tourism industry and others. Inouye's legislation is supported by many of the veterans groups around the country. They believe that people need to come back to their roots concerning this holiday and what it means.
For many years people say that Christmas has become too commercial and the lament that fact too. Unfortunately both holidays have lost their meaning for many in this day and age. It is a dilemma that we face with many of our traditions.
Would changing the day the holiday falls on make it different? I am not sure that is the answer. Proponents argue that if the holiday fell on its natural day people would be more apt to honor it, particularly when it wasn't hooked to a weekend.
But in my mind this is not about the day it is on, it is about a mind set. As with all societies in history, the many who benefit take the few who sacrifice for granted, particularly when some time has passed since the sacrifice. It's easy to live in our rich society and forget who really defends us on a daily basis and who has given their lives in the past to do that. It's a travesty, but it also seems to be a fact of human nature.
So what do we do about the mind set; maybe we need to remind people that they don't need to be at a cemetery all day. If they just show up for their local ceremonies whether they are at sunrise like some or in the middle of the day, the programs the veterans put on are never long. But they are important.
Most years I am one of the photographers that go to the cemeteries in the area and take photos of those ceremonies. In our local area I am always amazed at the number of people who still decorate graves and come to the programs. But that's certainly not true everywhere. While many graves are decorated and adorned with gratefulness and love, I am saddened at all the graves that don't even have one flower on them. Some haven't for years.
We need to bring the focus of our community back to where it belongs on this day of remembrance. Next year, in 2010 on Memorial Day the Sun Advocate will be organizing a program we will call "No grave without a flower." We intend on organizing some of our advertisers and local service groups, in conjunction with our local florists to provide at least one flower for every grave in every cemetery in the country. Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one was forgotten on this solemn day; soldier or miner, farmer or rancher, housewife or child.
Maybe having that three day weekend will actually be of help to such a project and remembrance so we can do what we should for those that have given us so much.
And don't forget to go to the ceremonies that will be held at the cemeteries this Memorial Day either.