It’s a Holiday: Let’s Go To the Beach!

The traditional meaning of Memorial Day has been altered as society has changed. Here is a personal tribute to one man who died in service to his country.

Memorial Day is now a three-day holiday for most Americans. We don’t have to go to work and the airwaves are filled with “Memorial Day specials.”

It is an opportunity to get good prices on local car sales where the tents are decorated with American flags. And, since it is a day we don’t have to go to work, merchants offer the opportunity to pick up a recliner at a local furniture store at reduced prices  or we can go to the beach to go swimming and celebrate the start of the summer season.

While it is difficult to recognize without looking for it, car sales and furniture discounts were not the original reason for the holiday. Changing Memorial Day to a three-day holiday may fit our national mood though. Politicians can take credit for giving us more time off from work and economists will point out that we can go shopping to support the economy.

But young men and women dying in a war zone isn’t pleasant for discussion at the dinner table. The ambivalence of Korea, the acrimony of Vietnam, the political debates over our mission in Iraq, and the hypocritical messages of our national politicians from both parties striving to use our armed forces for personal political gains all work to blur the original purpose of Memorial Day–to remember those who died in service to our country.

I resent the changes. It’s personal. It reflects an attitude in our country that denigrates the sacrifices made by those who have fought in our Armed Forces.

Here’s one example.

Image of Marine lieutenant Ralph Russell
Marine Lieutenant Ralph A. Russell

Marine Lieutenant Ralph A. Russell was officially listed as missing in action on March 19, 1945. He was 22 years old and killed over the Sea of Japan in the waning days of World War II.

Many who were in the armed forces in the 1940’s went eagerly and with confidence they were doing so in the service of a country grateful for their efforts and their sacrifice. We are a more cynical country today.

Some of our leading colleges and universities won’t allow military recruiters on campus–allegedly based on their allegiance to higher principles. And with the smug arrogance of the self-righteous who have lived and breathed on an ivy league campus,  the graduates of these institutions rarely serve in the military.

There is an arrogance filtering down from some leaders that roughly translates into class distinction where the best and brightest are too good to serve our country by entering military service. For those Americans who have lost a son, daughter, relative or friend serving in our armed forces, Memorial Day is still a time to recall the memory of those who died in the defense of our country. For those who are fortunate not to have lived through such a loss, I hope they will take some time from shopping or swimming to recall the sacrifice others have made to allow us to enjoy our freedom and prosperity.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47