On this solemn holiday, let’s keep ‘Memorial’ in Memorial Day

Unlike many Americans, Samantha Daehling knows painfully well the solemn purpose of today’s Memorial Day holiday.

Daehling of Dalton, Mass., spent part of this holiday weekend attending the funeral for her husband, U.S. Army Spc. Mitchell K. Daehling, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan earlier this month. He is one of 53 American combat deaths this year and one of 6,700 deaths since the beginning of the United States’ War on Terror more than 11 years ago.

For Daehling, Memorial Day 2013 hits close to home and pierces the heart. It’s filled with emotions ranging from anguish over her personal loss to pride over the sacrifice her husband so selflessly made in defense of freedom and other noble American ideals.


For far too many of us, however, Memorial Day’s primary purpose has been corrupted. The day has become one to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, a day to fire up that shiny new grill for outdoor barbecues or a day to rush out to the nearby big-box store to save $400 on a 60-inch plasma television.

Others tend to confuse today’s holiday with Veterans Day in November. Veterans Day marks a nation’s homage to all men and women – living and dead – who have served in the armed forces in the nation’s 10 major wars over the past 240 years.

Memorial Day is much more narrowly defined. It’s the day that the nation sets aside to gratefully remember and soberly honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

President Barack Obama reminds us all of that solemn intent in his 2013 Memorial Day proclamation. The war dead of the United States “gave America the most precious thing they had – the last full measure of devotion. And because they did, we are who we are today – a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world.”

Or as Ohio Gov. John Kasich puts it in his 2013 Memorial Day resolution: “The last Monday in May is set aside to honor those who gave their lives in service to our nation” and who “answered the call of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice to maintain the security of our country and defend the values that we exalt.”

Few, however, feel the solemn nature of today’s holiday as powerfully as those living veterans who lost comrades in the scourge of war. As Vindicator staff writer Joe Gorman reported Sunday, the pain of loss is real and long-lasting for them. It is reflected in the bracelet worn by Youngstown police officer Ken Bielik, which has inscribed on it the names of three friends from his unit killed on the front lines of Afghanistan. It is reflected as well in the recollections of retired Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Lynn B. Griffith Jr. of Warren. Griffith tells the true story of an officer in his unit who had waited until the last rescue bell to be recovered from a sunken submarine in 1939 simply because others on the sub were in far worse shape than him. That spirit of sacrifice and humanitarianism epitomizes the holiday for Griffith and many others.


Sacrifice and selflessness indeed are the watchwords of Memorial Day. That’s why it’s so incredibly important that we take time out from our sunning, our grilling and our shopping to pause in a National Moment of Remembrance for our war dead today at 3 p.m.

It is the least we can do to memorialize and honor the service of those 850,000 Americans who have died in U.S. combat missions from freeing colonists of stern British rule in the 18th century to lessening the threat and horrors of global terrorism in the 21st century.

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