OPINION: Memorial Day - A Time for Thanks and Remembrance

By State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)

For the past 140 years, we have set aside Memorial Day as the time to honor our countrymen, who have given their lives in battle to defend our nation.

Memorial used to be celebrated on May 30. In 1991, Congress approved the National Holiday Act, which made Memorial Day a three-day weekend with Memorial Day falling on the last Monday in May.

The location and date of the first ceremony paying tribute to the war dead is disputed. Memorial Day was first proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. But even before the Civil War ended in 1865, women in many southern communities had started the practice of placing flowers on the graves of fallen confederate soldiers and many federal soldiers who fell in battle south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

During the effort to get congressional approval of the National Holiday Act, many believed that making Memorial Day a three-day weekend would blur the real meaning and spirit of the Day. In its 2002 Memorial Day message, the Veterans of Foreign Wars - VFW - stated, "Changing g the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."

It is not my intention to rehash old battles. First of all, it is highly doubtful that congress will change the law. In 1999, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced SB 189 which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30 instead of the last Monday in May. A similar bill - HR 1474 - was introduced in the House of Representatives. Both the Senate bill and the House bill have been bottled up in committees for the past nine years.

I believe that no matter what the date is, the gratitude felt and honor paid to these brave men and women will not diminish. From the Revolutionary War, fought to gain our freedom from England and our foothold on independence, to the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, 657,267 countrymen have given their lives for us on battlefields around the world.

There is no greater price to pay than giving one's life. In giving their lives for their country, they gave all their days they cannot live and all their dreams they can never fulfill.

It is our sacred trust and our moral obligation to pause at least on this one day a year to remember and honor those who gave so much so that we can continue to live in a land which offers us the unalienable right to live, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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