Memorial Day Memories

This Memorial Day, I want to honor my ancestors, at least as far back as my family memory goes.  On both sides of my family, my ancestors were hounded out of Europe by the dogs of anti-Semitism and greed.  Under great pressure, facing an uncertain future in a faraway land, in a time when leaving home very likely meant never again seeing or speaking with family and friends, they bravely gathered what they could carry and set off to try to establish a better future for their descendants.

They succeeded.  My family has prospered here in America.  On my father’s side, the three surviving children of my Russian immigrant great-grandparents became a doctor, a lawyer and (my grandmother) a teacher.  On my mother’s side, the German emigrants of the late 19th century became comfortable businessmen, doctors and dentists.

The Depression took its toll on my family, but by and large they did well, creating generations of hard-working, honest, loving people who entered energetically into building the American Dream.

Just because none of them died in war doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor them on Memorial Day.  There are many forms of service to one’s country and one’s family.

This Memorial Day, I raise a toast to the departed, to peace, and to life!

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  1. That’s so spooky. I was just thinking the same thing — and how it’s politically incorrect to even think such a thing. Good for you!

    • sudbird

       /  May 29, 2012

      This is exactly what our family has always done on my dad’s side. Take some flowers to the cemetery out on the edge of town, have a picnic at the reservoir. Those who feel Memorial Day is a military holiday are probably confusing practice in their own families (which are presumably oriented toward the military) with general American practice, which has always been to use the day for remembering those who have passed. Such confusion is common, similar to the idea that priests should be celibate, which is not something originally handed down by Jesus, but a practice put in place in the twelfth century by officials trying to break the line of inheritance for church officials. Dogma only takes a couple of generations for people to say “this is how it is and always has been.”

  2. Laura LA

     /  May 28, 2012

    This is exactly how my parents taught me to celebrate Memorial Day. We visited each family gravestone, left flowers, and told stories.
    I’ve also often thought that there are so many people who have sacrificed for America outside of the military – those who stand in picket lines for better treatment for workers, those who work in social services at reduced pay and increased stress, those who march on Washington for equal rights for all, and so many more. Memorial Day belongs to us all.

  3. Memorial day should always be reserved to remember the Men and Women who have died in Military Service to our Country only. This is not a generic holiday but a day to specifically recognize the sacrafices that 1% of our nation is willing to standup and protectt your freedoms you enjoy.
    I think you may be confused with the Jewish holidayYom HaShoah “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”), which was April 18th this year. That I belive is a great blog entry for you.
    Thomas Rudden
    Detachment Commandant
    Capt William D. Glynn Marine Corps League Detachment 128
    Haverhill, MA
    We would love to have you out to visit us so we could provide some first person insight into why Memorial day is important to us the way it is.
    General John A. Logan’s
    Memorial Day Order
    General Order No. 11
    Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
    Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

    General John A. Logan
    [Photo courtesy Tom Bell, Director of
    Media Services & Telecommunications,
    John A. Logan College,
    Carterville, Illinois]
    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, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. 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 no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice of neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of 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 from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, — the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

    II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

    III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

    By order of


    Adjutant General

    WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

    • Well said! They have the right to say what they want, work where they want, and to live as they want to, thanks to our Fallen Brothers in arms!
      W.L. Clark
      MACS(SW) USN (RET)

  4. Michael Harmon

     /  May 28, 2012

    This by far the most disrecptful time for this self serving article. I understand you want a day to think about your departed famly members. You should use Day of the Dead or as it is called here All Souls day. I put up photos of departed friends and family members for Day of the Dead. I do live in san Antonio and have been exposed to this tradition all of my life.
    But just because you and your family have had the freedom to not have to serve in the military and be able to have the freedom to prosper and in some cases be alive because of the sacrifices of those souls who gave their lives for that to happen.
    I have spent today thinking about many friends and family who gave their lives for freedom. It is obvious that you have not had any close friends or family members who have died in combat (or maybe even served).
    I had the hinir to serve in the Army with the best group of friends and family I have ever known. I take your article as a kick in the gut and spit in the face and the fact that you so self servingly wrote your winey column for today.
    You and I have the freedom of speach so I can tell you how I feel in a polite way and for you to spew this dribble.
    I hope that maybe you can read this and understand why we have this day (one day in 365 days to stop and thank those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom). Make it a tradition to visit the grave sites of your family and tell stories on All Souls Day or anyother day but, dont disrespect those brave men and women,
    Michael Harmon
    US Army Retired

    • Pat Ashton

       /  May 29, 2012

      I think the key is to distinguish between remembering the sacrifices of individual soldiers and glorifying the military. I respect those individuals who have put themselves in harm’s way and been injured and died because of it. But let’s face it – nearly every U.S. military involvement in the past 60 years has not been to defend freedom, but to protect corporate access to raw materials and markets. And the collateral damage to innocent civilians in the countries where these campaigns have been carried out have been many times greater than the military losses. We can’t always blame individual soldiers for these actions, as they are a matter of public policy. So while I honor the sacrifices of individual soldiers and their families, I maintain that it is no disrespect to them to drop the fiction that they died defending our freedom. They died to protect a corrupt system of corporate capitalism. The best memorial is to remember their sacrifices while uniting to democratically put a stop to this madness now.

  5. michael renzi

     /  May 28, 2012

    Instead of re-defining our day to honor fallen heros why not propose a new holiday? why should you take this away from people just because you feel excluded? maybe April 1st would be the perfect day for your new holiday.

  6. gimmelibertee

     /  May 28, 2012

    Breathtaking….the lunacy of the left.

  7. mf

     /  May 28, 2012

    peace. the peace that you enjoy that came at the cost of so many lives. what an incredible luxury it must be to enjoy that peace and never have to grieve the death of loved one who has served. to remember those who have died in service is not a political act. it’s an act of compassion. an act of humanity. an act of decency. something i fear you and your ilk know nothing about. still, my loved ones died for you. despite your limited capacity.

  8. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  May 29, 2012

    This post has generated a lot of commentary, here, on Common Dreams ( and on Facebook. If you read carefully, you will see that I am not suggesting we cease to honor the military fallen, but to add to their number those who served their countries and their families in different ways. And to make the style of our observance less military in form.

    • Michael Harmon

       /  May 29, 2012

      If you will read carefully Memorial Day is a day to give thanks to those who lost their lives fighting for the freedom that you and your ancestors have greatly profited from.
      You have 364 other days to make your other holiday or tradition. It is amazing to me that someone who’s family has lived because of the freedom bought by soldiers lives.
      You obviously have no clue what American military members do or think. You have never lost a friend or family member in battle. I would venture a guess that you have very fixed ideals of what we are like.
      Bottom line at least as I see it. You have no respect for the freedom and peacefully existence that you family has had. Your selfish poor me article shows it. It seems to me that in your world anything military is a bad word. I feel sorry for you but, as you had the freedom to post this we had the freedom to reply. Look at how many people have responded to your article and how they feel about it. Maybe you can learn from it.

  9. Charles VanWinkle

     /  May 29, 2012

    You are absolutely incorrect. This is and always has been a holiday to honor our military fallen. As a veteran I am continually incensed that academia feels the need to eliminate the military from our culture. Those who served and died allow people like you to freely dispense your opinion, no matter how misguided it may be. I would like you to visit a VA hospital or go in and have a beer at your local American Legion. After that you may understand why we serve and why we fight to preserve our sacred traditions.

  10. To those here who have pointed out the history of the US’s Memorial Day, I thank you: I was not aware of this background. However, I hope you can forgive my lack, as I am British, and sometimes forget that, despite the Internet’s worldwide reach, those of us communicating in English are all too often divided by a common tongue.

    I have nothing but the highest regard for those in the past who have voluntarily given their lives in the pursuit of what they individually consider to be right, and deepest sympathy for their loved ones.

    Nevertheless, I believe that any society moves onto dangerous ground when it bestows such honours upon all military fallen without consideration that some initially choose that life simply on the basis that it is a means of earning a living. Such action provides political support for those regimes whose leaders would send their military forces into harm’s way for reasons other than what is truly right.


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