Have we forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is being held a little earlier than usual this year and it seems as if the flowers know they need to bloom a little earlier to help decorate the graves. The observance for 2009 will be held Monday, May 25.

When I was a kid we called it Decoration Day and our family would literally spend the day going from cemetery to cemetery decorating the graves of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and close family friends. We always cut flowers from the yard to take. I especially remember the peonies because they smelled so wonderful. I know there are many who still hold to that tradition, but it seems that the day has turned into more of a day of family cookouts and parties and less about honoring those who have died.

A history of Memorial Day credits General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, as creating the holiday with a proclamation issued on May 5, 1868. His order was to observe May 30, 1868 as a day when flowers would be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Years later, the last Monday in May was set aside as a day to decorate the graves of those who died defending the United States. Flowers have been strewn on the graves of soldiers and American Flags have been used to remember those who served in the military. Although no specific ceremony was dictated, American Legion posts and other veterans organizations have taken it upon themselves to commemorate the day with local observances around the nation. Parades and ceremonies have been established through the years to honor those who have served.

The date of May 30 was changed in 1968 in the uniform holidays bill which created a three-day weekend and moved the observance to the last Monday in May. In a Memorial Day address in 2002, the Veterans of Foreign Wars said that changing the May 30 date into a three-day weekend undermined the meaning of the day and has contributed to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

Since 1987, Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and senator from Hawaii has been introducing measures, almost annually, to return Memorial Day to the May 30 date. In an effort to reeducate the public about the observance, a National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000. This resolution asks for people to stop at 3 p.m. local time, on the last Monday of May and set aside a few moments to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to the country.

I’m agreement with those who want the May 30 date to be set aside specifically for Memorial Day, because as a country, we have erred with at least one generation, maybe two in educating them about what the day is meant to commemorate.

More and more people see the three-day weekend as the kick-off for summer and the true meaning of Memorial Day is being lost.

Do we take the kids and grandkids to Memorial Day cemetery services, do we participate in a parade or go to a parade to honor past military heroes? I’m guilty of not relating to my children and grandchildren the importance of remembering those who have gone on before us. I hope to correct that and educate them about the truth of the day.

This week I visited the Batavia Union Cemetery and witnessed maintenance workers restoring some of the old grave sites. Many of those buried there so long ago have no one around to decorate their graves, there is no one left who remembers them. Their family members have moved away, have died themselves or can no longer visit their graves. On Memorial Day I’m going to make a special point to put some flowers on a grave that is no longer visited and I think I’ll take my grandchildren with me to help.