Since the 19th century, a day in late May has been a time of year when Americans — some of them, anyway, like the North Forkers who watch the parades — take time to put aside all the fuss and bother of daily life and think about something that isn’t easy for most of us to grasp.
It is not easy to understand the willingness of our airmen, seamen and soldiers to expose themselves to mortal danger in the service of their country. Their sacrifice is what we must take time to ponder and appreciate. Memorial Day isn’t about a three-day weekend. It’s about the service men and women who “gave the last full measure of devotion” for their country.
The parades are heart-warming and fun. They make us feel great about our little towns that thrives thanks to their independence, volunteerism and abiding sense of community, in an age when little towns elsewhere keep dying or disappearing under the tide of economic stagnation.
The fun part of Memorial Day is important. It celebrates community, which is what our soldiers have been dying for since 1775. In an effort to help Americans remember that Memorial Day isn’t only about parades, flags, barbecues and a long weekend, President Clinton in May 2000, on the heels of a congressional resolution calling for it, issued a proclamation setting a “national moment of remembrance” lasting one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. Its purpose was for Americans “to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday.”
Congress, seven months later, enacted Public Law 106-579 to establish “a National Moment of Remembrance … to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble event that that day is intended to be.”
President Obama has issued a similar order. “Since our Nation’s founding,” the White House declared, “America’s sons and daughters have given their lives in service to our country. From Concord and Gettysburg to Marne and Normandy, from Inchon and Khe Sanh to Baghdad and Kandahar, they departed our world as heroes and gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves.”
How many of us know about the “moment of remembrance?” It seems to have gotten lost in the same swirl of distractions that blur the meaning of Memorial Day for so many folks.
Here, people do remember. All the more reason to take one minute at 3 p.m. Monday to think hard about those who have died defending the United States.