VETERANS COMMITTEE: Remembering the True Meaning of Memorial Day

Rick Passarelli, Director of Veterans Affairs and Workforce Development 

Memorial Day honors the men and women who have died while serving in our military. It originated after the Civil War — a war that had claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history up to that point and necessitated the establishment of national cemeteries.  

By the late 1860s, Americans in various cities and towns had begun holding special ceremonies to remember fallen soldiers. They would gather each spring at local cemeteries to pray and pay respect for their sacrifice. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.   

Unofficially, Memorial Day also marks the beginning of the summer season, and it’s here that forgetfulness of its original purpose begins to creep in.    

A veteran of the First World War said in 1913, “…there is a tendency to forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears.” Even then, there was a sense that the true meaning of Memorial Day was slipping through the American conscience.  

One constant truth that I have found in my nearly 60 years of life is that the things that I fail to remember are often what I tend to repeat. Woody Allen famously said, “The reason history repeats itself, is because I didn’t remember the first time around.”   

On Memorial Day we celebrate our freedom, but too often we tend to enjoy the fruits of this freedom and forget the reason for our freedom. Freedom only appears to be free when you fail to remember what it cost.  

As Winston Churchill said: “A nation that forgets its heroes will itself soon be forgotten.”  

So, I have a question and a challenge for you as an individual or as a family: Without the formal gatherings to remember, will you be intentional to take time in between the burgers, bratwursts and watermelon to thank God for the men and women who paid the ultimate price for freedom?   

If we are not intentional in our acknowledgement and remembrance of the reasons we enjoy these freedoms, we will find ourselves not only falling into the trap of believing freedom is free, but in the process will forget who we are as a nation.    

As this Memorial Day comes and goes, please pass on to your children, family and friends that Memorial Day is a reminder and also an opportunity to tell the stories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  

To each one of you, from servicemen to spouses, sons and daughters, and everyone who has served and supported, I give you my thanks today!