Memorial Day: Remember all or Just Military?


Memorial Day is one of those holidays where the true meaning gets lost in the shuffle. First there’s the confusion over what Memorial Day is even about. Then there’s the question of who it is for.

My favorite way to prepare my 4-year-old for upcoming events or challenges is through library books. Since we’ll soon be attending a Memorial Day run and remembrance ceremony, I want to at least give him a point of reference on the subject.

But it took me by surprise when one of the children’s books we acquired suggested that Memorial Day is a day that people remember those who have died – regardless of whether they served. In the past, they said, it was just for the military. But now it’s just for any one who wants to have memorial-ish feelings for anyone else, no matter who they are or what they did.

Wait, what?

Now, I've become used to the infuriation I feel when commercialism confuses Memorial Day with something like this:


(Doesn't that just make you sick?)

But this Memorial Day-for-all business confused me.

And I didn’t exactly believe it. Really? Memorial Day is for everyone? We’ve really become THAT inclusive? Surely this book is just an anomaly, happily spreading misinformation to the children of the world.

And so I turned to the sum of all wisdom: Wikipedia.

“By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not.”
Now, I don’t envy the ability of those who have lost members of their family -- no matter who they are or what they did in life -- to remember them. Certainly that is important, appropriate and necessary.

But I do envy their time and actions on this one day -- the last Monday in May. Memorial Day, you will recall (and if you don’t recall, feel free to read the rest of the Wikipedia article), was founded after the American Civil War as “Decoration Day” – a day set aside to decorate the graves of the fallen.

We’ve be so well supplied since then with fallen heroes of other conflicts that the tradition has carried on.

But it, apparently, hasn't carried well enough. What does it say about our society that we cannot take even one day to remember SPECIFICALLY the fallen of war? How can we expect Americans to honor any service if we can’t even pause to remember for just 24 hours those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

No, people of America, Memorial Day's meaning is not of marking the life of all of your loved ones. It is for honoring the service and sacrifice of the fallen. Please remember that.

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