By Louis Avallone
You ever feel sometimes that something is just missing? Like it just doesn’t make good sense, but folks do it anyway? Like they are just going through the motions, and don’t know exactly why? Well, you are not alone. And consider the recent Memorial Day observance, as an example.
Did you know that only 20% of U.S. adults say that they are very familiar with Memorial Day’s purpose? So, before we go any further, and for you other 80% percent reading here, you should know that Memorial Day is to honor those who died fighting the nation’s wars, even though you may be most familiar with Memorial Day as signaling the “unofficial” beginning of the summer vacation season each year, not to mention crazy low sale prices on everything from mattresses to mini-vans.
Yet, while Americans do enjoy the three-day weekend that Memorial Day brings, most also understand the historical significance of liberty, and war. We understand our freedom is not free, but a gift from our soldiers. We understand that, since our nation’s founding, over 2.8 million soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in combat, or as Lincoln described it, “the last full measure of devotion.” These are the men and women, who have defended our nation’s liberty, and for whom the Memorial Day observance seeks to honor.
But maybe the watering-down of Memorial Day began when Congress enacted the National Holiday Act of 1971, making it into a three-day weekend. This may have had the unintended consequence of making it easier for folks to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. In fact, the VFW believes that this “contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
And yes, still, our children know only of backyard barbecues, swimming pools, family get-togethers, and mom or dad having a day off from work on Memorial Day. They know not of socialism or pacifism, or the doctrine of achieving peace through strength. They know not of car bombings in their neighborhood markets, air raid drills, religious intolerance, limitations on what news they can read or what subjects they may study, or how they may dress or express themselves politically, or otherwise.
They know not of these matters only because of the men and women who jeopardized their own well being to protect the countless millions of us who will likely never know them by name; nor know the last words of those who died in battle or the convictions within their own heart that allowed them to leave the safety and security of their home and family, so that so many of us can remain within ours.
And for these men and women, it was the quality of their character that still defines our modern-day, American way of life. From brokering a peace that ended the Holocaust, to winning the cold war, and to fighting terrorists on their own soil, the sacrifices of these fallen Americans continue to preserve the American dream for generations to come.
No, our children may not yet understand what it means to be free, but their lack of understanding is a testament to the achievements and selfless service of generations of our veterans. Our children know freedom because someone else paid the cost of admission for them (and for us). And by observing Memorial Day, as a more solemn occasion, we are less likely to dilute the significance of our freedom, nor the lives sacrificed in defense of it. In the words of Lincoln, “Any nation that does not honor its heroes, will not endure long.”
So, as another Memorial Day passes by, let us remember that we need not wait until the last Monday in May each year, to honor those who died fighting the nation’s wars. For me, at least, it should fall on every day of the year.