Memorial Day Wishes

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.

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James A. Restucci is the author of this blog. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Internal License.

10 Responses to Memorial Day Wishes

  1. TVNews says:

    I remember seeing something about a military museum on that road. Alas, with relatives near by time is something I rarely have when in that part of the world.

  2. Libby says:

    TV: While you were there, you didn’t happen to notice the Pa.28th Division Military Museum and Shrine? It’s right on the main drag and you can’t miss it. It’s a wonderful place to visit if you are in to “all things military” as I know you guys are. Lot’s of WWII tanks, howitzers around the grounds. And inside the building a re-construction of a WWI battle trench with mannequins and sound effects, etc. Lots of Civil War cannons, uniforms, muskets and Springfield rifles used by Union soldiers…You get the idea. This year the big added attraction at the Memorial Day activities was the 28th’s acquisition of two 14 inch guns removed from the battleship “Pennsylvania” before it was scrapped. Those babies weigh 66 tons each and are about 40 feet long. Impressive. If you are ever again in Boalsburg, I recommend you take some time and check it out.

  3. TVNews says:

    I’ll be darned. I was just in Boalsburg a couple weeks ago.

  4. jimr says:

    Thank you for those comments Libby, and I am glad to hear that!

  5. Libby says:

    You will be pleased to know that here in Central Pa. where I live, Memorial Day is celebrated as one of the most important days of the year. That is because we live near Boalsburg, Pa. and they claim to be the “Birthplace of Memorial Day”. They dispute Watertown N.Y.’s claim that the practice of honoring the fallen soldier’s by visiting and decorating their graves started there. Perhaps you have heard about Boalsburg? They devote the whole weekend to ceremonies surrounding the event. Those include Civil War re-enactments, and this year a WWII re-enactment. Directly across the Main St. from the cemetery is the Pa. 28th Division Military Museum and Shrine. That’s where the re-enactments take place. Literally thousands of people come from all over the state and beyond to be part of this little town’s great outpouring of respect in honoring all of our country’s soldiers from the Civil War on. So there still are some bastions around the country who observe Memorial Day as it should be observed..With dignity and respect. Just FYI.

  6. jimr says:

    Thank you for the comments Jason, and thank you also for your service to our country. I hope and pray as you stated that it will NOT take another war on our soil to change attitudes.

  7. Jason Raines says:

    Thank you for your post. As a society we would all benefit from reflecting on why holiday observances were created, and why they should have just as much meaning for us today as in years past.

    In high school, I was fortunate enough to have a retired Sergeant Major from the U.S. Army as a school teacher. He had been held as a P.O.W. in Vietnam at one point during his service career. His wisdom and teachings made a big impact on me.

    One thing he said was that Americans do not appreciate their freedoms and material wealth because we have not had a war on our own soil for almost 150 years.

    As TVNews pointed out, our nation and way of life have not been under a direct threat in several lifetimes.

    Memorial Day is about more than grilling out, the start of summer, and car sales. (Although I am glad Americans have the freedom to engage in these activities.)

    Our schools should be teaching this to young Americans, but as you point out, there are fewer veterans today, as a percentage of population, than in years past. We also do not have enough veterans teaching in school classrooms, to share their experiences either.

    Hopefully, it will not take another war on our own soil for apathetic attitudes to be changed.

  8. jimr says:

    EW Thanks, and I will make sure to pass on your thanks to DeLeesa as well. TV, you are unfortunately correct; this weekend the Sunnyside VFW members, auxillery and volunteers placed and collected some 1400 flags at service member grave sites, that is almost 10% of the population of the city! You would think that with those kind of numbers that more people would take notice, but they don’t. [:(]

  9. TVNews says:

    The reason the last few generations of Americans have lost sight of what it means to serve and die is simple. We have not been under serious threat of losing our nation and way of life (from an outside threat) in their lifetimes.

    Until the armed forces bail their bacon (and their assets and their right to blog, text, talk on the phone and gather freely) out of the fire they probably will not get it.

    Thanks for your service.

  10. EagleWatch says:

    Well said, Jim.

    And thank you and DeLeesa both for your service as well.