Arguably, one of the added bonuses of self-isolation has been more time with family.
A recent article on these pages talked about how, by virtue of being “cooped up,” there has been more storytelling, more watching home movies and more poring over photo albums. There has been a “giving” of family history, a “passing down” to other generations.
Many of those stories involve soldiers, wars or conflicts. They talk about how medals were won, and how valiantly individuals served, and the tragedies that took others. Our homes have become history lessons, and with captive audiences, important information and lessons can be imparted.
We are talking about the fabric of our nation.
This week, we remember those who have fallen while serving our country.
The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead.
In 30 words, we have told you why Memorial Day appears on our calendar. By design, it is a solemn day — one for reflection of the sacrifice hundreds of thousands of Americans have made defending the freedoms we value. It is not political, nor is it secular. It is duty.
For all intents and purposes, the day has been lost, too. Once again, we can point to another example of how the fast pace of our lives, and what feels like a growing apathy toward tradition and national pride, has begun to erase another important piece of our American legacy.
Despite being called Memorial Day — obviously a remembrance — many Americans believe this day honors veterans. It does, of course, but these are the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is true, in cemeteries, we mark the graves with flags of all men and women who have served our nation. (It has become too hard to differentiate between those who died serving, and those who have served.)
Several groups across the country have been reaching out to make sure Memorial Day and its roots are not lost, that the traditions associated with the holiday does not just devolve into “the three-day weekend that officially kicks off summer.”
At usmemorialday.org, an online petition started almost 15 years ago, organizers argue the holiday still does not have the rallying cry that it should. The plea begins, “Memorial Day used to be a solemn day of mourning, a sacred day of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. Businesses closed for the day. Towns held parades honoring the fallen, the parade routes often times ending at a local cemetery, where Memorial Day speeches were given and prayers offered up. People took the time that day to clean and decorate with flowers and flags the graves of those who fell in service to their country.”
Far too few of us honor the tradition thusly. In fact, referring to it as a holiday probably contributes to the misnomer. The least we can do is honor — for a few hours — those who died defending our rights and freedoms.
The late Daniel Inouye, a U.S. senator and Medal of Honor recipient, spent much of his public service trying to educate and preserve the day. Before the Senate in 1999, Inouye said, “(I)n our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer. My bill would restore Memorial Day to May 30 and authorize our flag to fly at half (staff) on that day.”
One of the most powerful voices of our time could not, with conviction, defend the day.
It is incumbent for us to know our history and heroes, to learn their stories and know their place in our families and communities. We should retell their stories.
Once upon a time, streets across Vermont and this nation were lined with mourners on Memorial Day. Black bands and veils were worn. There were crowds paying tribute.
For many tragedies, we insist upon not forgetting. We put up shrines, ribbons, make up slogans, generate buttons and even wristbands, to remind us to be humble and not apathetic.
There are few public commemorations this year because of COVID-19. But we can, in our homes — and in honoring memories through memorabilia, photos and stories — remember those people who stood for all of us. And they would again today in these most challenging times.