Sunday, May 31, 2015

Birthdays & Memorial Day

Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it refereeing a few high school girls’ basketball games (summer tournament), and in the evening went to the LDS Temple and a fireside with the student ward that I work with. It was a wonderful day of service to others. For me that is an ideal birthday. I would rather focus on others than have others focusing on me – especially since this was number 63 for me. I am grateful that I still have the health and energy to be able to referee the many sports that I do. Summers are full of tournaments that last two or three days and you can do 5-6 games each day. I have learned that I am not able to do 6-7 games anymore on one day, but I can still do 3-4.

My birthday is May 30th and when I was young May 30th was Memorial Day (it was changed to the last Monday in May in 1971). I always thought it was pretty cool to have the whole town celebrate my birthday with a parade and all the other activities. It took a while for me to realize they were not celebrating my birthday, but something much bigger. Memorial Day in the town I grew up was a big deal. We had a parade with all the scouts and military personnel dressed in their uniforms and the high school band, floats and others. The parade would go down the one main street in our small Midwest town and ended up at the cemetery where there would be speeches honoring those who had fought and died to defend our freedoms.

I don’t know if Memorial Day was such a big deal because we were in the middle of the Vietnam War and there were still a lot of WWII and Korean War veterans and even a few WWI Vets; but it seems that today it is just another day off from work and a day to play. I know there are many family traditions where they go to visit the graves of their family members who have died but except for the many Facebook posts about remembering those who died in the many wars we have been involved in, you don’t see that much from communities celebrating Memorial Day.

The holiday originated from several community events after the Civil War that were held to remember those who died in that war. According to the first official “Decoration Day” as it was first called was on May 30, 1868.

“General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

“On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.” (“History of Memorial Day”)

In another article published on May 28th, Rick Elkins questions if we are losing the meaning of Memorial Day. He says:

“I got to thinking that we are losing sight of what Memorial Day is about and about the role of the military in our history and world today.

“Not only are there fewer and fewer men and women around who served in World War II, we are losing their children as well.

“Today, we do not give as much thought to the men and women who serve and the sacrifices they make, but we should. Just because their battles seem far removed from Main Street, we should not forget they are fighting for us, they are putting their lives on the line for us. We certainly do not have shortages because of the war effort and we don’t see the effort every day.

“I hope the younger generations never have to go through what my parents went through, but I also hope they do take the time to understand what their grandparents, and today great-grandparents, went through to defend this nation and realize those efforts are still being undertaken today.” (“Are we losing the meaning of Memorial Day?”, Rick Elkins, The Porterville Recorder)

My father served in the Army during WWII, my wife’s father and an uncle (he died serving in WWII) served in the Canadian Army in WWII, and my oldest brother served in Vietnam. I grew up with the draft during the Vietnam War but my draft number was 306 (which meant that those with birthdays that were on days that had lower draft #’s was drafted before me) and so I was not drafted and did not serve.

As my birthdays come and go, I don’t mind forgetting about them, but we should never forget those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives so that we can enjoy the blessings of living in a free country. Regardless of your feelings towards the wars that our military is fighting right now, we must not take it out on the brave men and women that have been sent into those battles. Whenever you see someone in uniform, please take the time to say thank you. If you have the ability to help with the various organizations that support wounded military personnel do it. It is a sad thing to see those who come home with life changing injuries that have to struggle to find proper care, employment, and support from our communities.

Here is my favorite tribute to those who gave their lives. It is an eleven-year-old boy paying tribute to those who lost their lives on Omaha Beach. Your comments and questions are welcome.

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