I hate war. Always have, always will. But I realize that at times war is deemed necessary—and then soldiers go off to war to protect Americans and American interests. I will always value, respect and appreciate soldiers and their families for what they give up to protect us all and our way of life, and for the courage, strength and fortitude they demonstrate in action.
Today is Memorial Day, the national holiday set aside to honor our veterans. This celebration of the courage and honor of our dead heroes started during the Civil War when many locations simultaneously began holding services at gravesides. The first officially proclaimed observation took place on May 30, 1868. Back then it was called Decoration Day as 5,000 gathered together to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The day was all about reconciliation and coming together to honor those who gave their all for their country.
By World War II, Memorial Day honored soldiers from all wars, not just the Civil War. In 1971, the day was proclaimed a national holiday and moved from May 30 to the last Monday of the month to guarantee a three-day weekend. The convenience was nice, but certain groups feel it has undermined the solemnity and meaning of the day. For some, this holiday weekend simply marks the start of summer, nothing more.
MAKE THE DAY MEANINGFUL
It is up to us to make the meaning of Memorial Day clear in all we do. We need to honor the soldiers who have given their lives as well as the veterans who returned home, like my father who served on Iwo Jima during World War II. We need to extend our outpouring of honor and appreciation to all currently serving in the military and to their families, who also give up a lot as their loved ones serve their country. So today, fly the flag, attend a community event, visit a cemetery, say a prayer, shake the hand of any soldier or veteran you see. Say, “Thank you!” On second thought, such actions would be appropriate everyday.
To help with your personal celebration, here is a video of Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful.” It was recorded in 1972 as a segment on the Dick Caveat Show. I opted to post this version of “America the Beautiful”—which I just prefer over “The Star Spangled Banner”—because Ray Charles starts his performance with the third verse, and that verse seems especially fitting for today. He eventually moves on to the more traditional first verse:
O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
As you listen to this video, think about how truly beautiful America is. It has tremendous physical beauty as shown below in some photos from across the country—not just national and state parks, but also oceans and mountains, general roadsides, deserts and fields, forests and rivers. We need to do our best to preserve this physical beauty and conserve and protect our resources as much as possible. But the other beauty—an inner beauty of values and personal integrity—is up to us as well.
Preserving this other America will only happen if we put our commitment into action. So, honor the military, today and everyday, by doing whatever you can to make America a beautiful place worthy of their sacrifice. That means we must foster love, tolerance, understanding, respect for all regardless of differences, help in everyday life as well as when tragedy hits, and a general sense of friendly caring and support for all we encounter. On this Memorial Day, make the commitment to do all you can to make America a place worthy of the service and commitment of our military. It is up to us!
SOME PHOTOS SHOWING AMERICA, THE BEAUTIFUL
I took these photos over the years as I have traveled across this glorious country. They do not represent the whole country, yet. But they show places I have traveled when I had a decent camera with me and could record the splendor of the world around us. I hope you enjoy them. But remember: Keeping America beautiful in all ways is up to us!
HOW ARE YOU CELEBRATING MEMORIAL DAY?