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  • Reverend James Squire

Memorial Day

Memorial Day contains within it an x ray of the soul of the American people. It points out the division in our culture between pain and pleasure. The day itself has a convoluted history of who, what, and when started this recognition of soldiers who died in battle and the impetus to honor them with a special day which was first referred to as Decoration Day.

There is controversy surrounding its change of date that reflects a mindset of the American people. It was first remembered on May 30 so that there was one day where the war dead are honored. However, in 1971 federal law moved the date of remembrance and honoring those who died to make us free to the last Monday in May. This would make for a three-day holiday for Americans.

This shift of date created division in the American rank and file. Veterans wanted it to remain as May 30 so that the focus could be on those who gave their lives for our freedom. Veterans were willing to die for our country. They thought that it is not too much to ask that we stop for one day each year and remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. In essence they were willing to put the nation above their own personal interests. The religious underpinning for this day is found in the Gospel of John: “Greater love has no one more than this, that he would lay down his life for his or her friends.” (John 15:13)

Contrast what Memorial Day has come to mean in our nation which represents a different view of when and how it should be held to honor those who paid the ultimate price. The movement of the holiday was meant to give Americans a three days holiday or as some would say that “it is the beginning of summer.” To say that this is a dominant understanding today in our culture would be an understatement. There are some people who aren’t in the military or those who had loved ones die in a war who actually say, “Happy Memorial Day!” There Is nothing happy about it.

EA as a school sent a number of alumni/ae to the service academies. We hold the distinction of being the only school in the nation who had three starters on the Navy Football Team at the same time. They are Midshipmen Eckel, Hamilton, and Person. Multiple Person family members attended the Naval Academy. We have special chapel services for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

I would vote to change it back to May 30. For one thing it would raise peoples’ awareness of what the holiday is really about even in the midst of possible anger. It isn’t about a Memorial Day Sale for a new refrigerator or sofa..

I want us to reread that statement from the Gospel of John. One of the definitions of values in ethics is raised by the question: “What would you be willing to die for?” I raised that question in my ethics classes for when you think about it, the question cuts to the very core of why we do what we do. It stands as a core consideration to ethical thought. It is foundational! My students gave many different answers with “my family” the dominant response.

But let me make it difficult for you and me to answer. Beyond your family what are you and I willing to die for? That is the question that Memorial Day raises by holding before our eyes “those who answered ‘my country.”

The answer to the question is not “Where can I get the best deal?” That is why we would benefit as a nation to go back to having Memorial Day on May 30. Who would protest that? That response could tell us a lot about the State of the Union.

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