How great a sacrifice?

These sousaphones at rest in Clague Park will sound again with stirring patriotic tunes by the composer whose name they bear paying tribute to our nation's soliders. (Photo by Egon Luengo)

The first official observance of Memorial Day, also known as “Decoration Day” occurred May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery where graves of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers. Memorial Day was observed on May 30 for more than a century.

A change came in 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect. Memorial Day was among several federal holidays assigned to specific Mondays instead of traditional dates. The longer weekends benefitted government employees.

On May 26, the last Monday of May, area residents will visit cemeteries to remember their own.

Proponents of the traditional May 30 date felt the three-day "holiday weekend" diminished the solemnity of the single day set aside for remembering soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice; legislation to restore the original Memorial Day went nowhere.

Their argument makes sense. The long May weekend is touted as the first weekend of summer fun and popularized by major retail events.

Understandably, weary American workers benefit from combined time off to have fun, relax, and maybe catch up with yard work. Whatever their pleasure, the freedom of choice is theirs.  

Those who marked Memorial Day before 1971 lived in simpler times. This was a time when there was generally more respect for people and property. On warm summer nights windows were generally left open. It was glorious to fall asleep to the lullaby of nature’s nocturnal chorus and moonlight peering through the window. At times just screen doors were locked, admitting only fresh breezes. 

Older area residents learned about civics, social responsibility and good manners. While Northeastern Ohioans are noted for their generosity, extending everyday kindness doesn’t necessarily require a “cause.”

In years preceding the information age, qualified people who wanted jobs could usually find them. Child’s play was imaginative, and young people passed more time outside. Weekends were family time. A Sunday hike in the Metroparks or country drive was a treat. Youth were attracted to scouting, which teaches self-reliance, practical skills and citizenship. Heroes represented good, and villains, evil.

People now grapple with the consequences of the same technology that cost them their jobs. Public discussion regarding misuse of social media and negative influence of graphic violence in motion pictures and digital gaming has failed to diminish their overwhelming popularity. Times appear to be changing in a rather unsettling way.

On May 26, flags will be displayed on homes, in yards, and along parade routes. Westlake and Bay Village will host parades and patriotic ceremonies that include wreath laying, the playing of taps and 3-volley salutes. Although deeply symbolic, Memorial Day services attract fewer participants than does Independence Day, including times when July Fourth falls midweek. Nevertheless, both holidays are important reminders of what it means to be a part of this great nation.

Simpler times fostered the lifestyle that our heroes fought to preserve and protect. What better way to honor our fallen than by serving our communities, being responsible citizens, and setting a good example for others to follow? That’s not too much to sacrifice.

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Volume 6, Issue 10, Posted 9:35 AM, 05.13.2014