28 May 2012

Memorial Day 101 by Willie Ellerbrock

Memorial Day 101

By Willie Ellerbrock

“Official definition for Memorial Day: Originally called “Decoration Day,” the holiday began with a proclamation in 1868 by General John Logan designating May 30th as a day to place flowers on or otherwise decorate the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War. Soon thereafter, the annual tradition of visiting cemeteries and holding parades to honor fallen soldiers in all American wars became widespread.

But it wasn’t declared a national holiday until 1971 when Congress changed the name and moved the date to the last Monday in May, creating a new three-day weekend.”

 Unfortunately, these changes make it easy to forget or ignore the Day’s solemn purpose, and, for many Americans, Memorial Day is just the unofficial beginning of summer (e.g., “the day public pools open”) and an opportunity to stay home from work or school to picnic with soda, beer, and barbecues.

Today we remember the sacrifices of U.S. service members worldwide who gave their lives for the pursuit of freedom for all. Forever remember the Families of the Fallen, and honor our Soldiers, Military Families, and Friends.

I once saw a Memorial Day cartoon depicting a car passing an ignored military cemetery alongside a well-travelled country road. Not even noticing the cemetery, the driver says, to his wife: “Blanket? Cooler? Grill? Hot dogs? Did I forget anything?”

Yes, he did. Like his countrymen who neglected the cemetery, he forgot to remember why he had the day off.

In an effort to revitalize interest in honoring all military men and women who died in the service of their country, a Presidential Proclamation was issued in 2000 establishing a “National Moment of Remembrance” and declaring:

Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation’s freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day [by encouraging] Americans everywhere to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.

Including those who died in the first half of 2011, more than 600,000 countrymen have been killed fighting for their country. A moment of solemn reflection is such a tiny payment for such a great service.

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend I’d like to share my response to an interview I gave a few years ago where the reporter asked me to give a personal connotation from a combat veteran’s perspective about Memorial Day.

 Most of you that know me personally understand that I never miss an opportunity to ‘share’ my view and ‘educate’ the many willing to listen about proper etiquette, so here is my response:

 Memorial Day was set aside to honor the dead and decorate their graves. It is a day with special meaning to us veterans. It's a free country; everybody doesn't need to mark the day in somber fashion. But here are some points of etiquette from a vet’s point of view:

1) Memorial Day is 'observed' as opposed to 'celebrated'

2) Don’t thank vets for their service- Veteran's day is on November 11- my service was far less ‘costly’ than my honored comrades

3) Please don’t say 'happy Memorial Day'

Once in your life, go to the ceremony at the end of the parade.   They'll explain the history of Memorial Day, read the Gettysburg Address and render funeral honors.  I’ve organized a firing detail in theatre, a few fallen friends’ funerals and also at the Los Angeles National Cemetery Memorial Day remembrance ceremony and will never have dry eyes at Taps again.”

Personally, the hardest part of coming home for me has been the disconnect with folks that have never worn a uniform and those whom haven’t deployed to theater.  Memorial Day, at least for me, is where that disconnect is most apparent.

I hope you will take at least that minute today at 3:00 p.m. local time to reflect and venerate for the immense and immeasurable sacrifice of millions of soldiers, airmen, sailors, coastguardsmen and Marines past and present who fought for and died protecting the freedoms and privileges we all enjoy. And while you are at it, think about and remember the thousands of American troops who are still in harm’s way in Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa. And if you miss the opportunity at 3 p.m., please find another time to commemorate them.

“Semper Fi”

Willie Ellerbrock 

Semper Fidelis: Semper Fidelis distinguishes the Marine Corps bond from any other. It goes beyond teamwork—it is a brotherhood that can always be counted on. Latin for "always faithful," Semper Fidelis became the Marine Corps motto in 1883. It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what. Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone, and Semper Fidelis is a permanent reminder of that. Once made, a Marine will forever live by the ethics and values of the Corps.