Memorial Day is the time for Americans to reconnect with their history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we cherish.
More than a million American service members died in wars and conflicts this nation fought since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for independence. Each person who died during those conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to the community and the nation.
The observance of this day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863. As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and other loved ones were cleaning confederate soldiers’ graves in Columbus, Mississippi, placing flowers on them. They noticed nearby the union soldiers' graves, dusty, overgrown with weeds. Grieving for their own fallen soldiers, the confederate women understood that the dead union soldiers buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own soldiers' graves and laid flowers on them too.
Soon the tradition of a "Decoration Day" for the graves of fallen soldiers spread. On May 5,1866, when the Civil War was over, Henry Welles of Waterloo, New York, closed his drugstore and suggested that all other shops in town also close up for a day to honor all soldiers killed in the Civil War, union and confederate alike. It was a gesture of healing and reconciliation in a land ripped apart by conflict.
Sixteen years later, in 1882, the nation observed its first official Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who died in all our nation's wars.
For decades, Memorial Day was a day in our nation when stores closed and communities gathered together for a day of parades and other celebrations with a patriotic theme. Memorial Day meant ceremonies at cemeteries around the country, speeches honoring those who gave their lives, the laying of wreaths, the playing of Taps.
Sadly, many Americans have lost this connection with their history. All too many Americans today view military service as an abstraction, as images seen on television and in movies. For a growing percentage of the American people, Memorial Day has come to mean simply a three-day weekend or a major shopping day. Families might still gather for picnics, but for many of them, the patriotic core – the spirit of remembrance – is absent.
Memorial Day, like the military itself, is largely cut off from its historic meaning for many Americans. They have forgotten what the military stands for in the nation's history.
Many Americans have no experience with or connection to the military. There are many reasons for the disconnect. We have fewer and fewer veterans to share their stories. And many of our older veterans – especially those from World War II and Korea – tend to be reticent. They often don't talk about their service.
It is for this very reason, that on this day, the Restucci Family does not do picnics, or go camping, instead my boys, my wife and I all go to the cemetery, we help place flags on the graves of fallen service members and on Monday evening, we go back to the cemetery and remove those flags. Its seems a small price to pay for those who gave so much.
As veterans’ both DeLeesa and I have seen the horrors of war, and we do not want our boys to experience that; however it’s important that they understand that this is not just another “4 day weekend” from school.
To those family members who have lost a loved one in battle. I would offer my personal thanks, for they are truly heroes in my book, and I for one will never forget their sacrifice.