True meaning of Memorial Day

Published 8:50 am Monday, June 6, 2011

To the Editor:
Local resident and veteran Otis W. Livingston Jr. wrote a letter about Memorial Day in 2008 whose message is still valid today. Portions of that letter are printed below:
“Another Memorial Day has come and gone. And I am saddened. My sadness is not prompted by the remembrance of those of the Armed Forces who have given their lives for us. I am continuously saddened by their loss. Rather, a new feeling of melancholy has swept over me because of my realization that most Americans no longer seem to understand or care about the true meaning of this special national holiday.
“I recently read where a group of schoolchildren, when asked what they thought was the meaning of Memorial Day, replied, “It’s the day the pools open.” Many others see it as only another day off and a chance to find sales at the local mall. Still others use the three-day weekend for a quick getaway vacation. To me this is a sad commentary on our nation.
“Since 1868 Americans have gathered in their cities, towns and villages to decorate the graves of the military men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. At first it was actually called Decoration Day. Its purpose was to honor those who had served and died during the Civil War. Later, after World War I, it became Memorial Day and its purpose became that of honoring Americans killed in all our wars.
“For many years, Memorial Day was a solemn and sacred day. But times change and tradition slips away. Memorial Day slipped rapidly away when Congress moved the traditional date of its observance to accommodate the desire to establish another three-day weekend.
“But the change in date did not impede our local VFW Post 9116 from conducting their annual ceremony. This year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, members of the group and other volunteers worked their way through the community’s cemetery and placed an American flag on the gravesite of each veteran they could locate and identify. Sure, not all of the veterans who were thus honored gave their lives in battle. But they all served. And that was good enough for the VFW and for me.
“Then on Monday morning people gathered for a ceremony. There was a bugle call and then a speech or two.
“But what came next rekindled my soul and reminded me that there are still many patriotic people in our land who love this country and who would fight and die for it if called upon to do so. Five or six members of the post were called upon, one at a time, to come forward and place a small flower, wreath or flag at the base of the cemetery’s flagpole. Most who participated were veterans of World War II. They marched forward as best as they could. Some were stooped by age, arthritis or other maladies and some had trouble standing erect. But they gave it their best shot, recited or read a short statement honoring those who had given their lives, then smartly rendered a hand salute. The ceremony lasted only minutes. But its impact on me will last forever. These men and women know the meaning of Memorial Day.
“We need to bring Memorial Day back to where it was. Back to a day set aside to honor our fallen heroes. Back to a day of solemn remembrance and reflection.
“But I’m afraid it will never happen. Why? Because the nation has changed. People just aren’t interested anymore.
“There are, of course, many folks who support our troops. The VFW, the American Legion and other veteran groups care a great deal about our armed forces. There are people who wait at the airports to greet our returning heroes. There are schoolchildren and others who assemble tons of sundries, package them and then ship them off to our troops overseas. Thank God for these caring patriots. But where is the rest of the nation?
“Most Americans are busy with other things. Most want that long, Memorial Day weekend. All want lower gasoline prices. Many want their homes back.
“Maybe by this time next year there will be a new America, one that will inspire people to be more patriotic, take more pride in their country and help return this nation to the fundamental principles and beliefs upon which it was founded.
“And maybe we will have a nation more grateful for the sacrifices the men and women of our armed forces have made on our behalf. And maybe, just maybe, more folks will show up for next year’s Memorial Day ceremony to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
–– Otis W. Livington Jr., submitted by Scott Camp

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox