Saturday, May 29, 2010
When I was a child, Memorial Day was marked by the annual Memorial Day parade, a smaller, quieter parade, at least compared to our elaborate 4th of July display. Various community groups, scouts, and veterans groups would parade up the main street in town and end up at the VFW Post building. I confess I always thought it was kind of a boring day; no stores were open and there was no entertainment save for our little parade.
Today, Memorial Day has become known as the unofficial start to summer. And along with those other U.S. holidays, Presidents Day and Veterans Day, it has become just another 3 day weekend, conveniently scheduled on a Monday. And like those other holidays, it is one more event that retailers use as a marketing tool. Memorial Day sales are now in full swing, in case you missed the ubiquitous TV and print ads.
In fact, a Google search of "Memorial Day observances" yields 545,000 items, while a search of "Memorial Day sales" offers a stunning 4,920,000 sites. There is something sad, and very telling, in that lop-sided ratio. Years ago, my husband worked as an ad copywriter for the venerable department store Strawbridge & Clothier. The store had a policy that it would never hold a "Memorial Day" sale, finding distasteful the idea of tying a sale to the official observance of the nation's war dead. In the store's later years, sales that were held this weekend were dubbed "Hello Summer" sales, but never connected to Memorial Day.
It seems as though as a society we have forgotten what Memorial Day was intended to be, namely a day to remember those who died in service to our country. Last year I recall cringing as I saw a graphic preceding a local TV show declaring "Happy Memorial Day from channel xyz!" Happy Memorial Day? Really?
On this unofficial start to summer, I hope people will enjoy parades, picnics and gatherings of friends and family, perhaps a ball game or two. After all, our military men and women serve our country in order to ensure our freedom to do just these things. I hope to see houses flying the United States' flag, and perhaps I will even encounter a small parade on our travels this weekend. And I hope that people will pause for a moment and remember those for whom we set this day aside.
The poem, In Flanders Fields, was written during World War I and is often included in Memorial Day ceremonies. This week, the choir at my son's high school included this poem, set to music, in the spring concert. As I listened to the voices, and watched the faces of these soon-to-be-grown young men and women, I knew it was too much to hope that they would live in a world that did not add to the Memorial Day list of names. But I do have hope that they will know that Memorial Day isn't and wasn't always about getting 50% off the latest fashions, but about remembering those who gave 100% for us.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
~Lt. Col. John MaCrae