Last year for Memorial Day, I gave the whole hour of “Left of the Dial” about the meaning of the holiday. I think it, sadly, still holds up as pretty current. Click the “Audio MP3” button:

J.M. Bell – 2009 Memorial Day’s “Left of the Dial”

This is a “Holiday” that is supposed to mean something. Republican’ts cheapen it with false patriotism and political posturing – rampant capitalism whores it out to sell cars, carpet and furniture – and most people have lost touch with what Memorial Day stands for.

Memorial Day used to be observed on May 30. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War still advocate returning the holiday to that date. The VFW released a statement in their 2002 Memorial Day Address that I think pins down one of the points I tried to make on the show:

“Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”

So … what is it all about? Refresh your memory:

The 1868 Memorial Day Order:

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and Marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation’s gratitude—the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

Memorial Day means something. Take a few minutes this weekend and remember the sacrifice by visiting the military section of the nearest graveyard in your area. Contact the Boy Scouts or the VFW and volunteer some time cleaning up the graves and placing flags. Visit your family dead and observe a few moments of silence in their memory. Most of all – Spend a few minutes in reverent contemplation on how you enjoy the benefits and freedoms that were provided by those who came before us.

Jeff Bell