Memorial Day: Remember our past — our future depends on it

Author says making day part of three-day weekend has turned into party rather than pledge to never forget

Are we losing the meaning of Memorial Day? It seems so.

I believe we started to lose the meaning in the 1970s, when Congress declared that Memorial Day would no longer be observed on a specific day — May 30 — but, rather, on the last Monday in May. That ensured a three-day weekend, which is now considered the unofficial beginning of summer.

Of course, that spawned a bombardment of promotions for outdoor furniture, barbecue equipment, weight loss programs and cars sales that continue to this day.

Now, I enjoy a three-day weekend as much as the next person, but we should remember why Memorial Day was created.

Memorial Day is about memory.

Author, humanist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellie Weisel once said, “Without memory, there is no culture, no civilization, no society, no future.”

Memorial Day is meant to be a solemn day of remembrance for those who served in our armed forces and never came home (as opposed to Veterans Day, which is meant to honor all those who served).

Even our own state government seems to be lost about this meaning.

The website is currently festooned with colorful signage urging everyone to “celebrate Memorial Day Weekend!” Its billboards feature music festivals, motor cross races, rave dance parties, picnics and other vacation-oriented events. There are plenty of other websites trumpeting all-day parties up and down the Jersey Shore.

I suppose one could debate whether this is disrespectful of the intent of the day, but there is no denying it is tone-deaf to the spirit of the day.

I am not looking to put a damper on the summer kickoff, but we should remember that there are many among us who lost comrades or family members on battlefields. They are probably not inclined to find the day a cause for an “epic” party.

I should note that there are dozens of parades and memorial services planned and advertised across New Jersey appropriate to the meaning of Memorial Day, but attendance at these events seems to shrink every year.

It is estimated that, since the flareup at Lexington and Concord that ignited the American Revolution in 1775, about 1.324 million Americans have died in military service around the world.

So, as the sun rises next Monday morning, let us remember the familiar and the forlorn places where the sacrifices of Americans who gave the last full measure of devotion still echo — the stark hills of Korea, the virulent jungles of Vietnam, the South Pacific Islands, Normandy Beach and Western Europe, and, on our own continent, Mexico, Canada and the 19 states where the Civil War was fought.

Let us also remember that the sacrifices made by these Americans helped forge a nation built on ideals of personal liberty, self-determination and charity for all. Creating a nation based on these cornerstones makes our national experience unprecedented in world history — and only those with a severe ignorance of this history or with a conscious desire to be obtuse would not recognize this.

We all realize that we have not always lived up to these ideals and, in some cases, we have gone egregiously against them, but we owe it to the 1.324 million Americans to remember the ultimate sacrifice they made and why they made it. In their honor, we should strive each day to make our nation what Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln called the “last best hope on Earth.”

Ray Zardetto is the editor of Military Matters; reach him at