So, how is your Memorial Day shaping up? Heading to the pool or the beach? Having friends over for a barbecue? Or maybe catching that sale at the car dealership?
Yep, Memorial Day is here: the semi-official start of summer with a three-day weekend thrown in. So much to do. In fact, if you go to Google and type in “Memorial Day what to do,” you’ll get all kinds of activities in your area: food and film fests, music concerts, baseball games.
And you might, just might, learn how you can honor America’s war dead. I say might, because Memorial Day has morphed—for the most part—from a day of remembrance to, as one city magazine put it, a “beloved three-day weekend [to] get a taste of all of the exciting outdoor events as . . . summer officially kicks into gear.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing with friends and families and celebrating the arrival of summer. But I want to challenge you and your family to find ways to pay homage to those who have given their lives for the sake of our country and our freedoms. And I have some suggestions for you.
But first, a little context. Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.3 million Americans have died during our nation’s armed conflicts. More than half of those were casualties on both sides of the Civil War. If you can imagine, more than two percent of the American population perished during that savage conflict—that would be like 7.7 million Americans dying today.
It was after that great conflagration that Americans, primarily in the northern states, chose a day to honor the war dead: May 30th, 1868, was the first Decoration Day, as it was called because citizens were asked to decorate the graves of the fallen. After World War I, the day became a time for remembering all war dead, not just those of the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1968 that Congress moved the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May. And in 1971, Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday.
So, what can we do to remember and show our gratitude?
First, fly the flag. At home and in your town. You might want to check over at your local town hall and ask if the flag will be displayed properly on Monday: Flown at half-mast until noon. As the USMemorialDay.org website puts it, “The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.”
Second, attend your local Memorial Day parade. Don’t be shy: Don your patriotic gear and stand with your fellow citizens.
Third, visit a national cemetery and decorate graves. Or simply walk the grounds quietly and pray.
Fourth, you might attend a memorial service. Many Veterans of Foreign War posts hold special services to honor the dead.
Fifth, take your children to a military museum or battlefield. Teach them about the sacrifices made by so many. Instill in them a respect for the men and women who to this day volunteer to serve their country in the armed forces—knowing they may be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Sixth, observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00PM on Monday. Since 2000, Americans have been asked to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”
Finally, consider donating to organizations that help our nation’s veterans and families. And get your church to reach out to military families in your area.
So yes. Enjoy your long weekend. But find a way to honor those who, through their sacrifice, made this weekend possible.
(This commentary originally aired on May 27, 2016.)
Further Reading and Information
How Will You Honor the Fallen?: Reviving Memorial Day
Take advantage of the many Memorial Day observances and spend time on Monday with your family to honor the fallen.
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