Many Americans know why the last Monday in May is a national holiday.
Apparently, they’re still in the minority.
“A survey of people revealed that 74 percent of the population thought that what was significant about Memorial Day was that it marked the opening of summer pool season,” U.S. Army Col. Gregory Adams told the crowd gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 764 in Peters Township. “It seems our national memory needs a boost from time to time about the solemn significance of this holiday.”
The Nottingham Township resident was the featured speaker at Monday’s commemorative ceremony, with the podium set up near the post’s War Memorial.
“To remember and to honor those who have served our great country, we distinguish this day from Veterans Day in order to solemnly remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of our veterans who died in the service of our country,” he said.
A native of Indiana state, Adams has a military résumé that includes serving as chief of operations of coalition forces for the Land Component Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2003-04. At the Peters Township ceremony, he spoke about the history of Memorial Day, from its May 30, 1868, origin nationally as Decoration Day.
“Although it originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War,” he said, “during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.”
The federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 fixed Memorial Day as May’s final Monday, starting in 1971. Twenty-nine years later, prompted in part by surveys similar to the one cited by Adams, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act.
If you’d like to note it on your 2020 calendar, the act calls for Americans, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause for one minute.
“Does 3 p.m. seem an inconvenient time?” said Adams, quoting author Teresa TL Bruce regarding the act’s purpose. “After all, it’s smack dab in the middle of many folks’ trips to the beach or backyard barbecues. Stopping for a moment of solemnity would slam a damper onto the fun.
“That’s the point. Those whose lives ended in service to their country put aside their personal lives, their fun. We can resume our parties and picnics after sixty seconds, but they, and their families, will never return to life as before.”
The ceremony at VFW Post 764 followed Peters Township’s annual Memorial Day parade, and Adams shared some fond memories from his original hometown.
“When I was a child, our community’s parade went by my house, to the cemetery just down the street,” he said. “There was a contest to decorate bicycles in patriotic colors, and if your bike was decorated, you were allowed to ride in the parade, a tradition I truly enjoyed with my neighborhood buddies.”
Adams commended those who attended the parade and ceremony for taking the time to remember those whose lives were lost.
“But we can do more,” he said. “While it is right and fitting to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice – and more importantly, remember the families that they left behind – we, too, can and ought to serve others, veterans or otherwise.
“Many of our veterans who survive but are gravely wounded, physically or emotionally, need our help,” he continued. “Tragically, each day 20 veterans take their own lives. But more than that, maybe it’s just our neighbor down the street who needs our help. So I implore you, reach out and help.”