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Reflect and Respect on Memorial Day

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May 24, 2013

This Monday, May 27, we will observe Memorial Day in the United States. Over the years, the preceding weekend is commonly referred to as the “Memorial Day weekend.”

Even though Memorial Day, and its predecessor “Decoration Day,” is observed to remember all of our nation’s fallen from all wars, it actually begin during the American Civil War. On both sides of the conflict and on different dates throughout the remainder of the 19th century, states made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Eventually the date chosen was May 30. While there are a variety of opinions surrounding the choice of the date, two are worth mentioning. First, it was a day on which no battles were fought during the American Civil War (but of course, subsequent wars have made that point moot). Perhaps the most practical reason that May 30 was chosen was because on that date all the flowers are in bloom.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., salutes the casket of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, as his body lies in state in the Capitol rotunda, as Dole's wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., looks on. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

Whatever the reason, in 1968 Congress officially declared the change from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day” by federal law. The following year, Congress passed another law. It called for Memorial Day being observed on the last Monday in May, thus, giving rise to the Memorial Day weekend.

While Memorial Day began to recognize those fallen in battle in the service of our country, over the years its purpose was expanded to remember all of those who have given service to our country and now have passed on. A few decades later and we’ve expanded this day of remembrance to include all of our family and friends who have passed away.

Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional start of our summer season. It’s not uncommon for family and friends to organize picnics, ballgames, and open swimming pools for the season. These are all wonderful traditions, but we can’t help thinking that if those who gave their life in the service of our country and those who served our country and have now passed on had not sacrificed and served for us, what would we be doing? We are grateful to these heroes.

As you see by the photograph, retired Senator Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, wounded in War World II, is saluting his comrade-in-arms, Medal of Honor recipient, Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat from Hawaii. Senator Inouye was also wounded grievously in the same campaign as Senator Dole. They actually met while in the hospital receiving treatment for their wounds and became lifelong friends.

Theirs has been called our “Greatest Generation,” but let’s not forget the subsequent generations who have served and sacrificed and passed on for us. Let’s not forget that we have men and women in the service of our country deployed in harm’s way continuing to give their lives for us.

We hope you all enjoy this holiday weekend. The folks mentioned in the previous paragraph made it possible. Please start your Memorial Day activities with a respectful observance of the day. Here’s how: If you have an American flag, on the morning of Memorial Day please raise it to the top of the staff and then slowly lower the flag to the half-staff position. It should remain in this position until noon. At noon, raise the flag back to the top of the staff. This is an activity that symbolizes our resolve not to let those who sacrificed for our country to have died in vain.

Even if you do not have a flag, check your local listings for NPR or PBS. They will broadcast the national Memorial Day concert during which those we honor on this day will be remembered.