Warning: This is a rant. Enough is enough. This is not a calm discussion.
This rant is about Memorial Day. You know, that extra day off most of us just enjoyed. You may not have noticed the actual official designation, given that the seemingly most important thing about it was that it was the final day of a three-day holiday. Acknowledging its original purpose seemed mostly an afterthought. (In fairness, local attention to the real purpose was probably far superior to that in a lot of places.)
Let me point out the most obvious thing about the day, its name. It is for memorializing. You don't do memorials about living people. You may honor them, but a memorial is for the dead. Memorial Day was set aside to honor our war dead. Not our veterans. Not our currently serving soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen. Our dead. In my opinion, the national remembrance should embrace those who died outside the range of the guns, but whose deaths resulted from their wartime service. But I object to the inclusion of currently serving military service members, veterans, military retirees, and those who served and later died in a manner not related to war.
Am I being too picky? I'm capable of it, but I don't think so in this case. We are diluting the effect of a significant day set aside to remember those who gave more than we, the living, can really grasp. Some had barely begun to live, had not yet fully matured, never got to enjoy the sweetest blessings of a peaceful life, when they were snatched away in what was most often a bloody, terrifying, painful manner. We owe them a debt beyond imagining. Is it too much to ask that we set aside one measly day each year to concentrate our attention on what they gave up to pay for what we now have?
We certainly have the right to celebrate in the manner we choose. We're Americans. Those who died in our wars down through the past 237 years guaranteed our freedom to choose things for ourselves. But some choices strike me as self-serving, guilt-assuaging, and tacky. On Memorial Day, as with Veterans Day, there is a not-so-faint hint of overreaction to the hated Vietnam War and its warriors, like a husband buying a too-expensive birthday gift to compensate for the anniversary he forgot. But that type of compensation rarely repairs the damage, so its better to just move on.
As for tackiness, note to major league baseball: Those semi-camouflage patterned baseball caps looked silly, childish, and borderline insulting. In what way was that affectation supposed to honor our war dead? I would suggest to whoever came up with that idea that a little dignity trumps outlandishness every time.
At least baseball teams are in the entertainment business. You don't expect them to be completely serious nor, as long as they play halfway decent baseball, to always track logically with history and current events. You do, however, expect that of television news anchors. If you're like me, you'll be disappointed, for they will spend a good bit of time each Memorial Day paying honor to serving military personnel, veterans, and any others they think should be added to the Memorial Day mix.
The other part of my rant relates to when we celebrate this special day. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided some years ago that we should forget about tradition and stop celebrating on the 30th of May. Instead, the designation should be moved to the last Monday in May, thereby guaranteeing an additional three-day weekend, while also guaranteeing more money spent on sales, travel, picnics, and other holiday types of business. Thus also guaranteeing that attention would be drawn away from memorializing the war dead and redirected to having fun and making money. Senator Daniel Inouye made an effort to change the day back, but it got nowhere. I wish the change could be made, but I'm not holding my breath.
As I write this, there's only just over an hour left of Memorial Day 2013. My thoughts go to the many Americans who died in war and how much I owe them. I'm honored to have worn the same uniform many of them did and to have fought under the same flag. I'll do anything I can to honor them. It will not include wearing a camouflage-patterned baseball cap.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."