Memorial Day weekend is, of course, the start of summer. Pools open. School is almost out. There are cookouts. Everyone starts to get into that summer pace. Nothing not to like about any of this – and on Monday I will be smoking a pork shoulder myself.
It’s far too easy to forget what this holiday is about. Originally known as “Decoration Day,” the holiday originated in the years following the Civil War. In 1868 the leader of the Northern Civil War Veterans called for a nationwide day of remembrance at the end of May. The graves of those who fell in the war would be strewn with flowers or otherwise decorated. Decoration Day spread quickly. By 1890, every northern state had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Not surprisingly, the south did something different. For most southern states, their Remembrance Day was at the end of April. It was not until after World War I that the observance of Memorial Day at the end of May became uniform throughout the country. It became a federal holiday in 1971.
Memorial Day is personal for me. I grew up in a Navy family and, as a young man, I served in the Army. In 1999 my law firm started representing veterans and military families. It’s a huge focus of our practice. It also gives us a very keen sense of what these people face in their daily lives – and their frustrations dealing with the VA and military medicine.
These days, what I find both sad and disturbing is that huge swaths of our society are becoming increasingly disconnected not only from those who have died, but from those who have served at all. For many, defending our nation, serving in the military, and taking those huge risks is something we expect “other people” to do. It’s not for us or for our children. We have better things to do with our lives. Such attitudes are misplaced and dangerous for a free society. We can’t subcontract our “dirty work.” The responsibility needs to be a shared one.
Part of that responsibility is appreciating the contributions of those who have gone before us. In the history of our nation, hundreds of thousands of men and women have died in our defense. Their sacrifice deserves acknowledgment.
Enjoy this weekend; go to the pool and fire up the grill. Do something else, however. Go to your local war memorial or nearby national cemetery. There’s probably a scheduled ceremony. Even if you cannot do so, just pause in your errands and pay your respects. Think of those who died so we can live the lives we now live.