I gave my two granddaughters, aged 11 and 13, little, red, paper poppies the other day.
They looked at them skeptically and asked, “What’s this?” I briefly tried to explain their meaning, that red poppies are worn on Memorial Day to commemorate America’s war dead, the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have died for our country. The girls shrugged and pocketed the poppies.
Assuming their public school teachers would at least make passing reference to the meaning of this national holiday and maybe even of the poppies, I asked them today what their teachers had said about Memorial Day. The eleven year old answered, “Nothing,” the thirteen year old answered, “A few told us to enjoy the day off, one told us to stay safe.” I asked if they had worn the poppies. Both said no, that they would have felt “weird.”
Very sad, indeed, on a number of counts including the fact Memorial Day is not intended for enjoyment but for remembering.
It’s easy to forget the meanings behind national holidays, especially when those charged with educating either don’t know the meanings or don’t care. Christmas, of course, is now regarded in our schools as nothing more than an occasion for a week off and in American society in general as a time for shopping and getting.
And people often confuse Veterans Day, when we honor all those who have served the nation, with Memorial Day, when we pay respects to those who have perished in the service of our country so, to be generous, maybe we can attribute the prevailing disinterest in next Monday to confused ignorance. Even President Barack Hussein Obama, busy vacationing in Chicago, broke with tradition last year by failing to lay a wreath at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
For the edification of those more interested in both tradition and respect, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, dates to 1868 and is essentially a reminder to Americans that all the benefits we revel in, and take for granted, today are derived from those who gave their lives for us in the past. Memorial Day is especially meaningful in 2011 when America’s heroes are continuing to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan and, very possibly, will die in the Libyan non-war which our president terms “a kinetic action.”
For an excellent website detailing information on Memorial Day with a host of related sources, see http://www.usmemorialday.org/
Like any other holiday, Memorial Day is far more meaningful for some than for others.
However, it’s still very worthwhile for all of us to pause our festivities this weekend. It’s still very worthwhile to visit a gravesite of a fallen war hero, display the flag, at half-mast until noon, proudly wear a red poppy, and display the POW/MIA flag as well. It’s still very worthwhile to remember.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies. (Moina Michael)