Memorial Day — the unofficial beginning of summer — tends to be a laid-back holiday, a chance to fire up the grill and enjoy a little R&R with family and friends.
But it’s also a holiday that grew out of perhaps this nation’s darkest depths. It was first conceived as Decoration Day, a day of remembrance and honor for those who died in the Civil War, that bloody conflict in which Americans killed one another in staggering numbers. It’s generally thought of as having originated in 1868 as a commemoration for the Union soldiers who died in that war.
It evolved over the years into a time in which we honor all Americans who have died defending their country in all our wars. There will be some parades today, some ceremonies at cemeteries and some people will place flowers on graves and at the nation’s war memorials. One such ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Carolina Field of Honor in Triad Park in Kernersville.
These Americans sacrificed to keep this country free and strong — a great democratic and prosperous society where, on the last Monday in May, people can relax and relish the good things in life.
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Yet, this year the holiday comes at a time when many of us are facing the losses we’ve suffered because of COVID and, more recently, because of senseless acts of murder committed at a grocery store in a Black community in Buffalo, N.Y., and in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, within the space of only days. It will be hard to set those events aside.
And, as the News & Record reported last week, COVID-19 was the main cause or contributing factor in 1,693 deaths in Guilford County, according to a review of death certificates filed through March 28. Statewide last week, 26,563 new cases were reported with 17 more deaths.
So, even as you take your enjoyment, please take proper precautions.
And keep in mind that next week, we’ll return to life in a society that has a serious gun problem, one that many of our elected officials steadfastly have refused to address. This needs to change. And the best way to do that, apparently, is to change those officials.
As we honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, it falls on every American to make those sacrifices worthwhile by being a people who are worthy — by being a nation that is worthy. That will mean different things to different people. But for all, it should include the simple desire to live and let live, to allow our neighbors the same freedoms — of speech, of religion, of association — that we appreciate. And it should involve a standard of decency, of the ability to treat one another with respect rather than disdain.
Dedicating a cemetery for war dead at the bloody battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., in November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his memorable address that so eloquently combines honor and sorrow for those who died with pride and love for the country they helped preserve. His words are worth repeating this Memorial Day:
“FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”