Memorial Day, the fourth Monday of May, has become for Americans the social start to summer. Memorial Day weekend inspires thoughts of cook-outs, concerts, and other outings. Along the way, many Americans seem to have forgotten what it is we want to remember when we observe Memorial Day.
Memorial Day began to be observed shortly after the end of the Civil War, when battle survivors and families and friends of soldiers wanted to recall and honor those who had lost their lives on the battlefield during the four years of conflict between the states. Gradually, May 30 became the date when time was set aside to honor the memory of these soldiers. Ceremonies were held on battlefields and in cemeteries, and many people referred to the day as Decoration Day because of the custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who had died during the war.
After the United States fought a brief war with Spain and then became involved in two World Wars, the meaning of Memorial Day was expanded to cover all the wars and military actions in which American soldiers lost their lives. When I was in high school, May 30 was a holiday (the last weekday off before final exams and graduation), but the high school band did not get a vacation. We marched in a parade to the cemetery, where music was played and speeches were given and guns were fired to honor the soldiers buried there. Later, the government of the United States moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the fourth Monday in May, providing a three-day weekend which has, in some ways, become a distraction from the real meaning of the day.
War is a controversial subject, and many Americans are reluctant to observe all the wars in which American soldiers have fought. In general, though, our soldiers deserve our thanks. Pearl Harbor and 9-11 stand out in our national memory because the United States has been attacked so rarely by its enemies. This is due, in part, to the diligence of the men and women who have served in our armed forces, often risking their lives, and sometimes losing their lives, so we can be kept safe.
Other countries have also been defended by their soldiers who also risked their lives and lost their lives for the safety of their citizens. Those countries have their own ways of honoring their soldiers. For Americans, this weekend is a time to take a break from work or school and to enjoy outdoors activities, but it is also a time to fly the American flag, to remember the soldiers who have served our country, and to be grateful for their sacrifice. May we never forget!