Leonard Browning: The true meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that occurs every year on the final Monday of May. It’s designated as a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Services. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while serving in the military. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Here in Craig, there is a public observance at the cemetery at 11 a.m. Memorial Day with the reading of the names of all veterans who are no longer with us.

Sadly, Memorial Day has lost the original meaning and significance for several reasons:

■ First, Memorial Day typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end. Instead of businesses closing and the day being a paid holiday for most to allow for public observances, we now have a “day off” to enjoy life and recreation. While this is not a bad thing, it has helped to create a distraction from the original intent of the holiday.

■ Second, Memorial Day now is observed on the last Monday of May, which inadvertently has contributed to the distraction from the original observance.

On March 17, 1989, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, introduced a bill to the Senate that called for the restoration of the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30. Every Congress since then, Inouye has faithfully re-introduced the bill. Several times a companion bill was introduced to the House.

Inouye eloquently stated in his introductory remarks to the bill he introduced in 1999:

“Mr. President, in 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 mast on that day. In addition, this legislation would authorize the President to issue a proclamation designating Memorial Day and Veterans Day as days for prayer and ceremonies honoring American veterans. This legislation would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our nation.”

As of today, no further action has been taken on this bill.

A third reason Memorial Day has lost its original intent is in our desire to recognize and honor all veterans, current and former. While this is a very good notion and we should have an ongoing respect for all veterans, Memorial Day is not the day for this recognition. That’s why we have Veterans Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

While I am very much ready for summer and all the activities it affords — and I appreciate all veterans of the United States Armed Services — this Monday, I plan on taking time out to pause, pray and reflect on the great sacrifice of those who died serving to protect our freedom and American way of life.

Jesus said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

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