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Understand, reflect on true meaning of Memorial Day

Editor’s note: Linert is on vacation. This column was first published Memorial Day weekend 2016.

Monday is Memorial Day, a day that many Americans think of largely as the official start of summer.

There will be picnics and family gatherings.

Whatever you choose to do, please remember that Memorial Day represents so much more than just that.

Memorial Day, originally dubbed “Decoration Day,” was first officially observed May 30, 1868, on an order by Gen. John Logan from his desire to honor the dead of the Civil War. Specifically, Gen. Logan said it would be 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.”

On that first Decoration Day, Gen. 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.

Through the years, recognition of Memorial Day has evolved and for decades, sadly, recognition of its true meaning may have waned. For a time this holiday may have been observed less for its true purpose and more as an excuse to grill burgers and open family swimming pools.

Undoubtedly those summer events still will occur over this long holiday weekend. But it seems to me that in many instances, the day has regained its true meaning — that is, an opportunity to pause and reflect on those who gave their lives to provide us the freedoms to do what we do this weekend.

I had an opportunity last week to chat with veteran Herm Breuer, director of the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission, who said he believes Memorial Day patriotism became renewed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That was when Americans seemed to reaffirm their respect for our servicemen and -women who have died, particularly if they died in the line of duty.

Lately, I’ve heard some discussion about Americans’ confusion between the reasons for observing Memorial Day and that of Veterans Day in November.

While both holidays are opportunities to show your patriotism, Memorial Day is thought to be a more solemn remembrance of those who have died in service to their country.

Veterans Day, also a national holiday, falls on Nov. 11 and is the day to honor all who have served in the military.

During our conversation, Breuer explained his approach to people who often don’t understand the difference between the holidays. He said he doesn’t take offense to it because he understands that, ultimately, they generally mean well and are simply attempting to show their respect for our nation’s military and veterans, whether they survive or have passed.

When he is thanked for his service on Memorial Day, his response is simple.

“I say, ‘Thank you, but today please remember those who paid the ultimate price,'” he said.

So how can you honor the dead on Memorial Day?

Remember that it is meant to be a solemn remembrance. Memorial Day parades should not involve throwing candy because that can be viewed as disrespectful.

Take time to attend a memorial service. There are some taking place around the area. You also can visit a cemetery and pay homage to those who have died.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

And please remember, it is always OK to thank a veteran for his or her service, no matter what the day.

Linert is editor of the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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