Take a minute to salute our heroes

Friday, May 25, 2012

What does Memorial Day mean to you? A day off? The start of summer? Parades and picnics? The opening of public swimming pools? You can -- finally -- start wearing white shoes again?

If public opinion surveys are accurate, many Americans don't know much about Memorial Day's purpose or history. That's a pity because it removes an important bond with those brave men and women who have given their lives in our nation's service.

Three-day weekends are (in theory at least) great, but one has to wonder if they sometimes erode a holiday's significance. In 1968, Congress debated this, along with the wisdom of moving several public holidays to Monday.

And, to a certain degree, it has. Memorial Day, like other celebrations uprooted from their fixed dates, has lost some of its intended meaning for many of us fortunate enough to live in this blessed land.

But the concept of a long weekend is not the only reason. Lots of folks simply prefer to keep suffering and death out of their thoughts as much as possible, which is understandable. And it's obviously more fun concentrating on the start of summer or picnics or something else.

More than a million American fighting men and women have given, as Abraham Lincoln termed it at Gettysburg, their last full measure of devotion. Their valor and sacrifice have made it possible for us to enjoy our freedoms, our values … even our very existence.

Memorial Day should be a time of solemn reflection on some of the most sacred of human ideals: family, duty, commitment, heroism and honor. We are so profoundly indebted to all the soldiers who have given their lives defending us. It doesn't mean we dishonor them by relaxing and having fun, it just means we should also take into account why we have the "extra day off."

A few years ago, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. It asked Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. local time and think about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

So while you're enjoying the cookouts and family time this weekend, take a minute to salute the people who protect us and our freedoms. It may seem like a small gesture, but it's a way to, however briefly, stay in touch with the real point of the holiday, and those heroes who make having such a tradition worth keeping.

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