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Lemon: What Memorial Day really means

Heather Lemon
Vail CO, Colorado

It’s Memorial Day. Fire up the grill, heat up the barbeque, break open the kegs, decant the wine (for those of us more refined) and celebrate the official start to summer.

It is Indianapolis 500, doubleheader baseball, basketball and hockey playoffs, the time to finally shake off the last dregs of winter (hopefully with no more snow). I

t is a three-day power binge to kick off the vacation season. And lost somewhere between the cocktails and the cognac goes Memorial Day.

Memorial Day was established in 1868 as a commemoration to the horrific price paid in lives during the Civil War to preserve a free and undivided republic. More soldiers (Union and Confederate) died in the Civil War than all of the other wars involving U.S. combat troops combined.

While the General Order No. 11 officially discussed the defenders against the rebellion, Union and Confederate soldiers were honored at Arlington Cemetery as a sign of reconciliation. Following World War I, the day was expanded to honor all fallen men and women from any war, and the southern states formally recognized Memorial Day.

It should be a day of remembrance, of honor, of gratitude to the more than 1.2 million lives that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our republic, and preserve our freedoms. This is not some jingoistic call to arms and glorification of war. We can disagree on policy, debate the morality of war, challenge the legality of presidential orders, and yes, protest the very wars our men and women are fighting, only because our servicemen have defended our very rights to do so. As the world’s oldest continuously functioning republic, we need to spend a day remembering those who fought to defend our freedoms.

Unfortunately,y with the passage of the National Holiday Act in 1971 creating three-day weekends for most federal national holidays, we have lost the significance of this important remembrance day. If the French can take six weeks off every year, certainly our economy can afford to have a specific national holiday on May 30 and add another three-day weekend holiday in May. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii has proposed creating such a fixed Memorial Day every congressional session for the last 10 years, and the bill has been buried in committee every time.

Maybe it is some disease of the NOW generation or Generation X or whatever Generation Z (aside: what happens when we run out of letters, is the next generation AA ” like the Energizer Bunny?) we are now, that we are somehow uncomfortable with death, of looking back, of reaffirming our roots, our founding principles, our very freedoms. Since the U.S. cultural revolution in the ’60s and ’70s, it is “un-cool” to honor the sacrifice of the military or to pay respect to what they have done for us. We talked about the waste of lives in Vietnam, but regardless of your ideological persuasion, what of the widows, widowers, and children of those who served?

Or, perhaps the military is tolerated as one of those necessary evils that we don’t really want to acknowledge and certainly we shouldn’t make some public display for fear of offending or being politically incorrect.

In Vietnam, the mothers of the fallen NVA (North Vietnamese Army) are saluted as heroes of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and are honored every year for their sacrifice. But in Vietnam, from their perspective, they are still living in the first generation of their revolutionary war of independence. So, that sacrifice is still fresh, still has meaning.

Are we too cool to celebrate our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, the freedoms we have because of the sacrifice of more than a million lives? I hope not. This is not a partisan issue ” if Memorial Day was created as a reconciliation of North and South, surely the current acrimonious divide between Red and Blue can be set aside for one day of remembrance.

Here in Eagle County we have lost young soldiers, serving their country. Thank you, Rachele Palmer, for your son Nick. Thank you, Jackie, for your son Jeremy Wright. There will be more. Thank you.

Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at lemonvail@aol.com. E-mail comments about this column to letters@vaildaily.com.


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