Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service. First enacted by former enslaved Africans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War – it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.
Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end. Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of “memory” as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not.
Memorial Day has also become a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. When I was at Purdue, going to the Indy 500 was a big deal, and I remember those days like they were yesterday.
Now at age 50, here is what I now get out of Memorial Day. Everything that we are, everything that we will ever own, and everything that we cherish – is enjoyed only because of the hard work and sacrifices made by others. Our parents, our teachers, our relatives - from generations of the past - have made everything that we own and enjoy (and sometimes take for granted) possible. Don’t let your ego kid you – every one of us are nothing more than the byproduct of a long list of unsung heroes; military and non-military alike.
My father served in World War II. My wife’s father served in the Korean War. Both of our parents would never speak of their time in the service of their country, as the memories were too painful. They came home from the war (with all of their limbs intact) and they were able to start a family. They came home and enjoyed the American Dream of home ownership, entrepreneurship and the pursuit of happiness.
Everything that I am, and everything that I will ever be, is due to the hard work and the incredible sacrifices made by all those who have come before me. This is what I now think about during Memorial Day weekends.
Maybe we should rename the holiday. Maybe we can call it “Be Humble” day or “Get down on your knees and be thankful” day.
Memorial Day reminds me that we should make every day count, and we should live each day like it was a gift. Because that is exactly what it is - a gift from those who have come before us. A gift that we must never squander nor take for granted. Hopefully our children and all future generations will one day feel the same way.
Have a safe and Happy Memorial Day.