This Monday, May 30, marks Memorial Day in the United States. It is a date that is important for many reasons. Economically, it unofficially marks the beginning of summer and the tourist season that accompanies it. Legally, it is a federal holiday in memorial of fallen service members. Personally, it marks the beginning of a long journey that I've yet to finish.
Memorial Day traces its roots to 1865. The first observance was held in South Carolina by freedmen at the location that is known today as Hampton Park. Originally, this holiday was to remember those who had given their lives during the American Civil War. Also, the holiday was known as Decoration Day. Throughout the years, the day has gained importance in that as new wars were fought, the fallen from these wars were too remembered on this day. In 1967, the US Congress officially named this day Memorial Day and recognized it as a federal holiday. When first passed into law, the holiday was observed on its traditional May 30 date, however, in the year after a law was passed to move the observance of the date to the last Monday of May.
The day seems to be known better for its economic reasons than the reasons for which it was founded. During this three day weekend, two of the biggest auto races of the year are held; the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. Perhaps more significant is the holiday marks the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States. For many, this usually marks the beginning of a vacation, perhaps taking advantage of a "holiday discount". Barbeques are not uncommon over the weekend either (in fact, many American holidays seem to be tied in with some sort of meal, barbeque seems to be the flavor of choice during the summer holidays). But this honestly isn't the true intent of Memorial Day.
A Personal Landmark
Memorial Day for me marks a personal landmark. It was during this day six years ago that I visited many of my friends for the last time before departing on a new journey (sadly, it really was the last time I saw some of these friends). As I made my way around on this final hoorah, I was focused on what was about to happen in my life. On May 31, I left home to begin my military journey. That day, I was taken to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Tampa, Florida to begin my processing for entrance into the military. And on June 1, 2005, I raised my right hand and took the oath of enlistment (the same oath I repeated on June 11, 2009, when I re-enlisted) and shortly thereafter was off to Basic Combat Training.
These last six years have been filled with a lot of excitement and emotion. I've met a lot of people along my journeys, traveled the world, learned more about myself and found activities which I enjoyed, and I've experienced the heartbreak that thousands of families have experienced since September 11, 2001, when I lost a close friend in combat. In these journeys, I've come to appreciate and understand the true meaning of holidays like today, and hold close to me these meanings. I have my own personal way of honoring my fallen comrade, by carrying a special dog tag in his honor.
For those in the United States celebrating this day, as you enjoy your day's activities, whatever they may be, I ask one thing of you. I ask that you stop and think about what today is really about and raise one in honor of those who have fallen while serving the nation.