Monday, May 30, 2022

Not A "Happy" Day...


Dear Friends,

My father was a proud member of the American Legion which is the nation’s largest wartime Veterans service organization, and I was a member of the Sons of the American Legion. For many years, as a teenager, I was in the color guard – they are the ones who carry the American flag (the “colors”) in parades, patriotic events and Memorial Day ceremonies. Among the memories is standing before many hundreds of Veterans at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration Medical center. Our color guard was presenting the colors at the Memorial Day service in the 114 acre Veteran’s cemetery that is now the Los Angeles National Cemetery. There was absolute silence from the large crowd as our color guard came to a halt in front of the granite monument erected in “Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in Defense of Their Country.” The silence stretched on until two trumpeters positioned on opposite hills far away began to play “taps” with one echoing the other. I stood there at attention holding the American Flag with tears streaming down my face.

Forty years later, I was a City of Glendale Administrator standing in front of an angry assistant City Manager demanding to know why I had just stopped a public works crew from putting a large banner on the front of our City Hall that read, “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY.” The banner had been ordered by the Armenian mayor and I explained to the Armenian assistant city manager what Memorial Day was, and told her how offensive that inappropriate banner would be to those mourning a family member or friend who had lost their life in service to our Country.

Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers and it became known as Memorial Day in 1967. On Memorial Day, we honor all who have died while serving in the Country's armed forces, but like the foreign-born leaders of the city I once worked for, many of our churches celebrate this as a "happy holiday" or confuse this solemn day of remembrance with “Veteran’s Day.” 

Do you think it would be strange to attend a memorial service where instead of the focus being on the dearly departed, all those who were still living were invited to stand so that they could be honored instead? But in many churches on the Sunday before Memorial Day, the Veterans will be asked to stand so that they can be honored for their service to our nation. I was even in one church where the pastor’s wife had decorated the sanctuary in red, white and blue streamers and patriotic bunting had even been hung on the cross! The pastor’s prayer was eloquent in its expression of thanks for all the men and women who were serving our Country that day. The well-intentioned pastor had misunderstood the meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has become the first holiday get-away in the vacation season and has become a day of joyful celebration instead of a day of reflection. If we’re not traveling, we’re firing up the backyard barbeque, and more beer will be sold for our Memorial Day celebrations than any other day except for the fourth of July. The Sunday newspaper was crammed full of Memorial Day sale ads so that we can truly honor those who gave their lives for our freedom by buying a big screen TV or a new washing machine. When retail clerks wish me a “happy holiday” at this time of year, I’ll tell them, “’s not a happy day, it’s Memorial Day.” 

The men and women we honor this day took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then sacrificed their lives so that you and I can enjoy the freedom we have in this Country. And that freedom comes at a great cost that you and I did not pay. They gave their life for you and me.

There are 325 million people in America and unless you are one of the 2.9 million Native Americans, you are a immigrant or your ancestors were. The reason that the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country is because they are desperate for the freedom and opportunities that those of us born here have taken for granted. 

Most of us have never given a thought to those who gave their lives in the American Revolution and in all the battles and wars since that time. And instead of giving thanks for them, we’ve turned the one day to remember their sacrifice into a festive day of food and fun. We need to remember the fathers and mothers and sons and daughters who have fought and died for our liberty because they believed in America, what it stood for and found it worth fighting for. It’s been said that soldiers fight not because of hate for who is in front of them but because of love for who is behind them. We honor that solder’s sacrifice on Memorial Day when we pray for their families and turn our thoughts to all the men and women who paid the cost for our freedom and quality of life that we enjoy.

Memorial Day will be over tomorrow, but it will never be over for the millions of people in our Nation who remember and grieve for loved ones who died in battle. From now on, let us always remember what this day commemorates and the men and women that it honors. It’s not about the barbeque and the beer. It’s not about the terrific sale at Target. It’s about standing in a Veteran’s cemetery and listening to the mournful sound of taps washing over teary-eyed family members and echoing over thousands of little American flags so lovingly placed at each grave marker...

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