Sharing stories brings new meaning to Memorial Day

Published 12:02 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Staff
Lindsey Sherrill, Guest Columnist
Memorial Day has never been a big holiday for me. It seems to have a lot of meanings for different people; a weekend at the beach, a backyard barbecue, the kickoff of summer, the end of the school year. For me, it's always been the reason my friends were out of town on my birthday.
But for some reason this year I've been thinking a lot about what Memorial Day really means. Maybe it's the still-so-recent terrorist attacks and the outburst of patriotism they've flamed. Or maybe I've begun to pay more attention to life in general. Whatever the reason, I decided to do some studying.
Originally, Memorial Day was to honor those who died in the Civil War. It was at that time called Decoration Day because of the decorations left on the graves. After WW I, it was called Poppy Day (because of the poppies that covered the battlefields in France) and the week before became Poppy Week in remembrance of all those who had died defending their country. It became known as Memorial Day in 1971 when it became a Federal holiday. But that wasn't what I wanted to know. So I decided to talk to a few veterans to get their viewpoint on what this holiday means to them. It was exciting to see the patriotism so alive in them, but also very sobering.
One man shared with me his personal reflections. "It [Memorial Day] means a lot to me," he said, with emotion in his voice. He told me about going with a friend to enlist in the Army. A medical condition kept him from being accepted (he later joined the Air Force), but his friend was. "He joined," he told me, "and at one point had his feet frozen and was shot. I could have been with him, but I guess it was God's grace that kept me out. I don't know."
Another man told me the story of his time in the Army and how it changed his views, not only about Memorial Day, but about life in general.
Why does he feel defending his country was not only his duty, but an honor?
That's what really struck me as I talked to all these men. They all described their time in the service as an honor. Whether they had served overseas or in the reserve, not one regretted it.
I know that this year I am definitely going to be thinking about Memorial Day differently. These men, and so many other men and women, can give first hand accounts of why we should remember those who fought for us. It's because of them that I have the freedom to write and print this and that you have the freedom to read it. It's because of them that we could go to church Sunday morning without persecution. I hope as we celebrate all those other things – school being out, summer beginning, an extra day off work – we will take a moment to remember all those who died to make it possible.
I think it is best summed up with the words of a man who told me what he understands about the remembrance and the pain of this day. "I think about my friends that didn't make it. It's hard to imagine why I made it and they didn't." That's what Memorial Day is about.

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