Yesterday was Memorial Day. The one day of the year we suspend our daily routines to pay tribute to the men and women who selflessly gave their lives in service to the country. We’ve been doing this, as a country, for 140 years. Yet I wonder how many people know why the day of commemoration exists. If Martians landed in New York yesterday, they may well have concluded that Memorial Day is the national barbecue celebration.
I spent the morning watching a parade, something I haven’t done in almost two decades. The last Memorial Day parade I attended was one I marched in as a volunteer fire fighter. Before that, I marched in every parade from about fifth grade through the twelfth grade as a member of the school band. My recollection of the Memorial Day parade has always been that of a somber, serious occasion. It was all business; put on a good presentation to honor those who fought for this country.
Times change and so do the meanings we attach to holidays. If you ask most people today what Memorial Day represents, they will tell you “the start of summer.” The parade has also changed. What was once a paramilitary display of ceremony, now-in may venues-resembles a walk-a-thon. The whole neighborhood marches to the park to fire up the grills. Don’t care to march the 25 blocks? No problem, you can drive your car to the finish line provided you put a ribbon on it. I wonder what General Logan, the “father” of Memorial Day, would think about the current state of the holiday.
The day before Memorial Day, I went to a national cemetery. I spent only a few quiet minutes, just enough to be reminded of the sacrifice made by the thousands of veterans buried there. Next year, I will skip the parade altogether.