Memorial Day: Remember All or Just Military?


One year, when I bought a children’s book to educate my young son on the meaning of Memorial Day, I was taken aback by its suggestion that the holiday is simply a day to remember all who have died -- regardless of whether they served in the military. 

The book claimed that in the past, Memorial Day had been a remembrance for fallen service members, but that currently the holiday is just for anyone who wants to have memorial-ish feelings for anyone who's passed away, no matter who they are or what they did.

Wait, what?

For years, I had already felt infuriated by the commercialism of Memorial Day. This new twist just made me feel sick.

Memorial Day is one of those holidays where the true meaning often gets lost in the shuffle. 

This Memorial Day-for-all business confused me.

And I didn’t exactly believe it. Really? Memorial Day is for everyone? We’ve really become THAT inclusive? Surely this book is just an anomaly, happily spreading misinformation to the children of the world.

And so I turned to the sum of all wisdom: Wikipedia.

“By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not.”

Now, I don’t envy the ability of those who have lost members of their family -- no matter who they are or what they did in life -- to remember them. Certainly, that is important, appropriate and necessary.

But I do envy their time and actions on this one day -- the last Monday in May. Memorial Day, you will recall was founded after the American Civil War as “Decoration Day” – a day set aside to decorate the graves of the fallen.

We’ve been so well supplied since then with fallen heroes of other conflicts that the tradition has carried on.

But it, apparently, hasn't carried well enough. What does it say about our society that we cannot take even one day to remember SPECIFICALLY the fallen of war? How can we expect Americans to honor any service if we can’t even pause to remember for just 24 hours those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

No, people of America, Memorial Day's meaning is not of marking the life of all of your loved ones. It is for honoring the service and sacrifice of the fallen. Please remember that.

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