Friday, May 22, 2009

Lest We Forget...

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."
-- Arthur Ashe 

Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day and was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. John Logan. The holiday was first observed on May 30th of that year, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873, and by 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. 

The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead separately until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor all Americans who died fighting in any war. 

Thomas Bailey Aldrich once wrote that Decoration Day "is the most beautiful of our national holidays.... The grim cannon have turned into palm branches, and the shell and shrapnel into peach blossoms."

I think he'd be horrified to see how this holiday has been bastardized like so many other American days of celebration, and turned into a debauchery of commercialism. Of all the American days of observance, perhaps this One is the most blasphemous to the purpose and heritage of our country. 

I personally don’t have a problem with a "Presidents’ Day sale," for example—for one thing, any meaningfulness of that holiday was lost when Congress combined Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays onto one, federally mandated holiday, which rarely falls on the birthdate of either. 

And the significance of Washington and Lincoln is further diminished by lumping all presidents, good and bad, into the same cheesy holiday. But holding Memorial Day Sales, to my sensitivities, is like letting the money changers into the temple of the Republic. We lose sight of the real meaning of the day in search of deep discounts, tax rebates, or holiday bogo’s. 

"Those who will may raise monuments of marble to perpetuate the fame of heroes. Those who will may build memorial halls to remind those who shall gather there in after times what manhood could do and dare for right, and what high examples of virtue and valor have gone before them. But let us make our offering to the ever-living soul. Let us build our benefactions in the ever-growing heart, that they shall live and rise and spread in blessing beyond our sight, beyond the ken of man and beyond the touch of time."
-- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Memorial Day 1884 

On Monday we will not be here on CNN650RadioNews…we’re taking the day off, as many Americans will. Still on duty will be our producer, Chris Chapman…along with police, fire, ambulance and emergency room workers. Also on duty will be guards and grocers, pilots and ground crews, watchmen and ship captains. Because the reality of the 21st Century is that the business of life has become 24/7/365 on a grander, commercial scale. 

But serving silent sentry will be the Fallen, giving their mute testimony to the greatness of the American experiment from beneath stone pillars, dusty brass name plates, plain white crosses, or from unmarked graves on countless continents and beneath the oceans where wars have been fought. 

On Monday, don't forget why you're getting the "day off:" 
It's the same reason you're able to work and play and succeed and fail and learn and get up and try again. Make Monday a day of remembrance and appreciation for what we have…and what it’s cost to obtain. 

"A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer."
-- Novalis

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