Today is Memorial Day, a day that unites the best of America’s national holiday traditions so that we might honor, remember, celebrate and rededicate. Here’s the four top ways to celebrate Memorial Day that have nothing to do with hotdogs and pool parties:
1. Honor the fallen
Foremost, the purpose of Memorial Day is to honor soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion to their nation.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was founded to remember the more than 620,000 Americans who died in the Civil War. The first commemoration occurred a year after the war’s end when 219 Civil War veterans marched in Carbondale, IL in memory of the fallen. Two years later, the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery took place, presided over by President Ulysses S. Grant. Over time Americans began to honor fallen soldiers of all wars and in 1971 Memorial Day became an official US holiday.
That tradition continued today as President Obama spoke at Arlington National Cemetery and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. In towns and cities across the nation, Americans remember soldiers by placing flowers or flags on their graves and by visiting memorials. For nearly three decades, thousands of bikers have rallied at the Vietnam War Memorial. Rolling Thunder remembers not only those who have died but also those who never made it back to our shores.
2. Remember why they fought
Memorial Day parades are respectful but never dour. Flags unfurl. Marching bands play. Veterans, city officials, and police officers on proud steeds wave as they walk along boulevards in cities and towns. Children on the shoulders of dads and Americans of all ages cheer and wave back. They remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers with smiles on their faces because of the reason for that sacrifice. America is a great country. It is not merely a thriving country of grand cities and quaint towns, flourishing businesses and verdant farms, scientific discovery and artistic endeavor. It is not merely a beautiful country of mountains, deserts, forests and fields. It is a nation of generous, industrious, and decent people. It is a nation dedicated to the truth that all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
3. Celebrate the nation
As with Independence Day and Veterans Day, Memorial Day offers the opportunity to celebrate. Americans head in droves to national and state parks and backyard barbeques. Whether they are conscious of it or not, Americans are celebrating the freedom of assembly and speech, the free market that produces food in abundance, and our armed forces who protect all of these blessings.
4. Rededicate ourselves to the truths for which they fought
In addition to honoring, remembering, and celebrating, Americans must take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the principles of our founding – freedom, responsibility, rule of law, self-determination, and self-government. It is too easy to cede our freedoms and responsibilities to an elected few and an administrative state that promises to make life easier for us. For ourselves and for the next generation we must not relent.
In memory of those who have fallen, we must never surrender that which is most precious.
“When You Go Home Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We gave Our Today,” wrote John Maxwell Edmonds of fallen World War I soldiers. Let us set aside our today to honor, remember, celebrate, and rededicate ourselves for the nation’s tomorrow.