Weekly Feature

2016-05-26 / Editorial

Memorial Day: It’s not for the living

Bee Editorial

Memorial Day is meant to remember those who died while serving in our nation’s military. The operative word in that sentence is “died.”

Each year, when Memorial Day observances are announced or conducted, well-meaning people will mistakenly say this is also a time to honor our veterans, as well as those members of the armed forces now on active or reserve duty.

It is not.

Veterans and those now serving have their own observances. Each year on Nov. 11, we celebrate Veterans Day, recognizing those who served and were fortunate enough to come home.

Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, honors those men and women currently serving in the military. In our opinion, it cheapens Memorial Day and the honor due those who gave their lives for this country when we insist upon making the holiday a catchall for recognizing everyone who ever wore or is wearing the uniform.

We’re not certain how this came about, although we suspect that the recent tendency to honor veterans year round may have something to do with our collective guilt over the ill treatment many received when they returned from Vietnam.

It may have been easier for people to understand what Memorial Day was about when it was called by another name: Decoration Day. The name was derived from the tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War.

The first national celebration took place on May 30, 1868, in Arlington National Cemetery, although there had already been a number of local observances. In 1873, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday, and several other states followed.

After World War I, the day became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of the nation’s wars, and the observances then became more widespread. However, it wasn’t until 1971 that it became an official federal holiday, to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.

However you observe Memorial Day, please reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

And however deserving our veterans or those currently serving, allow the dead to have their own day.

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