On the first Memorial Day, people decorated the graves of those lost in the American Civil war with flowers. U.S. Senator, John A. Logan, played a big role in making this commemoration an official national holiday called Decoration Day.
As time went on and more wars were fought, the name was changed to Memorial Day. In 1968, the holiday changed once again when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed into law, moving five federal holidays to Mondays in order to create convenient three day weekends.
The long weekend, combined with the emergence of warmer weather by the end of May created an ideal excuse to barbecue and relax. For better or worse, this has become the standard schedule for the holiday weekend.
Memorial Day is the first of arguably three annual holidays celebrating U.S. soldiers. This holiday remembers those who have past. Veterans Day is set aside to honor all who served the country as a member of the armed forces. Independence Day is inexorably linked to those who served in the Revolutionary War.
These holidays are largely commemorated with fireworks, symbolic tokens of gratitude, and, again, food.
Meanwhile, when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed for the first nearly 30 years ago after being signed into law by Ronald Regan, the holiday became known as a day of service.
It is hard not to notice a sizable discrepancy here. Regardless of an individual’s opinion on nationalism or taking another person’s life, veterans deserve the utmost respect for protecting the country. Still, one has to wonder why we choose to celebrate MLK day by helping other’s while those who put their lives on the line for what they believe in are given little more nowadays than a crappy Photoshop of a crying eagle in front of an American flag posted on countless Facebook timelines.
What about the policemen? The firemen? The first responders? It is safe to say that more people in this country associate May 4th with Star Wars than International Firefighters Day.
What about the homeless and struggling veterans who are unable to re-assimilate back into society when their tour of duty ends? Or the ones who take their own lives because of such issues?
What will it take for us to put down our hamburgers and redefine these national holidays as days where we not only commemorate all who served — including those who serve us on a daly basis — but also as a day where we pitch in and help one another out? That is the least we owe to those who risked their lives for our freedom.