New Thoughts on Memorial Day

New Thoughts on Memorial Day

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For the first time in generations we all have had a taste of what it’s like to be without the rights we have taken for granted.

Like so many other things in this strange pandemic season, Memorial Day takes on new meaning this year.

It was long overdue. More than 50 years ago, Congress bundled Decoration Day, the May 30th holiday to honor our war dead, into the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Since then, Memorial Day has done double duty. It’s part military, part civilian; part solemn, part celebratory; part procession, part parade. That seemed wrong.

This year, though, maybe it’s right.

As a country, as a world, we have had to relearn everything over this past year. After stressful months of isolation, introspection and mourning, we’re ready to get outside and let the good times roll.

The Four Freedoms

For the first time in generations, we all have a taste of what it’s like to be without the rights we have fought for, then taken for granted. Wartime President Franklin D. Roosevelt called them the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

Coming out of another world war, this time against a common invisible enemy, we’re suddenly aware of those last two freedoms. Our world has not seen shortages and deprivations like those of the past year since FDR’s time.

In a few short months, we’ve also come to better appreciate our freedoms of speech, assembly and association. We’ve been temporarily deprived of freedoms to travel, to earn a living, to choose from a wealth of products and services.

These are the tough choices we need to make in times of war. The Greatest Generation dealt with rationing and shortages at home while fighting their war overseas.

This war, though, has been fought by ordinary women and men, supported by the military, instead of the other way around. Our casualties include front-line health care workers as well as ordinary civilians.

As we cautiously emerge from our enforced hibernation this holiday weekend, we should celebrate our freedoms responsibly. But the essence of Memorial Day is what it has always been: remembrance and gratitude to those who died to defend our rights.

Let’s take time this week to enjoy our freedoms. They were secured by ordinary people like you and me who fought for them. They were paid for at great cost of lives and grief to survivors. Don’t squander them.

Do something to appreciate and honor those sacrifices. It’s more than just a parade. It’s a time to mourn. Remember six simple points we developed over the years:

1) It’s a procession, not a parade.
2) Be quiet during the ceremonies.
3) Honor the flag.
4) Respect the speakers.
5) Be thankful to veterans and surviving families.
6) When all is done, then celebrate your freedoms.

— Six Rules for Memorial Day, “Living Here,” Republican-American, May 30, 2010

Let freedom ring

With many ceremonies toned down again this year, here are some suggestions from the Memorial Day Foundation ( on things you can do:

  • Visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on graves of fallen heroes.
  • Display the American flag. On Monday, the national day of mourning, fly it at half-staff until noon, then raise it to full staff.
  • Participate in live or virtual religious services of your choice.
  • Visit memorials.
  • Join the National Day of Remembrance moment at 3 p.m. local time to reflect on the meaning of the day. (Taps may be played if appropriate.)
  • Find a way to help disabled veterans or the families of fallen heroes.

If you have a living friend or relative who is a war veteran, now might be a good time to visit–in a safe, responsible manner or by phone or video link–and talk about their experiences, their memories, any friends they lost. This is oral history, but it’s also a valuable part of understanding each other. Memorial Day is a time when they may be remembering these stories and ready to share them.

We, then, should be ready to listen.

Howard Fielding, a retired Republican-American editor and columnist, blogs at

One Reply to “New Thoughts on Memorial Day”

  1. Written at the request of the Republican-American. For years, my Memorial Day column reminded readers of the difference between the holiday’s meaning as a day of mourning and its effect as a long weekend to kick off the summer. But what happens when that’s turned upside-down, as everything else is this year?

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