It’s called Memorial Day and that may be ironic.
Because, as Paul D’Elia a leader of the Memorial Day Foundation, sees it: "The tragedy is that so few Americans remember what this holiday represents. We seem to have forgotten."
Memorial Day will be celebrated this weekend. The day itself is May 28th. And, on that day, Monday, Americans are supposed to remember the fallen, the more than 1 million who have died in this nation’s wars. To accomplish what the Memorial Day Foundation wants seems a difficult if not impossible task.
But D’Elia, a Vietnam War veteran, is determined to help make it happen. His foundation left for Washington, D.C. Wednesday. Their mission: to bring hundreds of bouquets of flowers to decorate graves at a dozen war memorials.
D’Elia told me: "Our slogan is: ‘Remember and Honor.’ The Foundation hopes to carry that message to many people. "
He thinks it’s a shame Memorial Day has been commercialized with advertising celebrating such items as cars and furniture. He’d like the advertisers to devote a percentage of the income from such ads to veterans’ welfare. "It’s their responsibility."
Memorial Day was created by a Civil War hero, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was officially proclaimed on May 30, 1868. Logan asked that people turn out on that day, every year, to decorate the graves of the dead with flowers.
In 1971, Congress made Memorial Day part of a three-day weekend by designating it as the last Monday in May. D’Elia and other advocates of a strong celebration of this day believe the three-day weekend idea has undermined the holiday’s significance. The Veterans of Foreign Wars says the three-day weekend has "contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
When I was a kid, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and, indeed, that came closer to General Logan’s original notion of what this day should be. I remember, along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, flowers were strewn. Each tree in Joyce Kilmer Park bore a plaque with the name of a soldier who died in World War I. Among those honored warriors was the poet after whom the park was named, Joyce Kilmer.
He wrote a poem called "Memorial Day" containing the lines:
"The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky."