I enjoy a three-day weekend as much as the next guy. But there’s little doubt that the true meaning of Memorial Day has become obscured by a surfeit of sale-a-brations and sell-a-thons.
Memorial Day wasn’t always an excuse for merchants to have yet another sale, for shoppers to score a great deal, and for Dad to fire up the ol’ BBQ grill. It didn’t always mark the beginning of summer. Until 1971, when Congress passed the National Holiday Act, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th, on whichever day of the week that date fell, and had been ever since it was first officially proclaimed in 1868 as a way to honor those who had given their lives in service to their country.
Whether it’s part of a three-day weekend or not, my thoughts always turn toward two of my own heroes, who were fortunate enough to return home from battle. My father, a Swedish immigrant who joined the famed 10th Mountain Division, served as a gunnery sergeant in the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment during WWII. He saw action in the Italian Alps against the Germans and lost many friends. Dad was awarded the Bronze Star, but never talked about his experiences. Whenever a war movie came on the television, he would leave the room.
I also remember with great fondness and affection my Uncle Larry Doheny, a Lieutenant Commander on the USS Flying Fish, a Hellcat submarine operating in the Pacific during the war against the Japanese. He, too, never talked about what he went through, though it was obvious his service left a profound impression on him. He never forgot those who didn’t return home.
Just a few days ago, my wife was going through some drawers and found my Dad’s Bronze Star (pictured above). She showed it to my son, who’s only six-years-old, far too young to understand what war really means. She told him about my father, who died many years ago, long before my son was born, about how his grandfather had earned the medal for fighting very hard and very well in an important war.
He thought for a moment, looking at the medal, then turned to her and asked, “Did he win, Mommy?”
“Yes, honey, he won,” she told him.
In every session of Congress since 1989, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii has introduced a bill “to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day” back to May 30th. His hope is that doing so will rekindle the original spirit of the day. Whatever you think of this legislation, and whatever you think of the conflicts in which the United States is currently embroiled, I hope you agree that it is “good” indeed that so many people have put their country before themselves. Theirs is a gift we should all cherish.