I fear that for most Americans, Memorial Day and Memorial Day weekend is a time to play or, as in the case of many in the restaurant industry, a time to work hard serving those people who are playing. Whether playing or working, everyone hopes that this is the beginning of a very enjoyable and prosperous summer season.
All this is good, but we often forget the real purpose of Memorial Day. This is a day set aside to remember America’s fallen heroes—those who died fighting our wars or keeping our peace.
Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. On this day, Americans went to cemeteries to literally decorate the graves of the fallen.
I was born in 1942, and the earliest memories I have involve the great happiness at the safe arrival home of my father after serving in the Pacific. I also remember the horrible grief at the arrival home of my uncle’s body from Europe.
Forever seared into my memory was seeing my grandmother’s heart break. Recently, I was going through the family archives, and I came across my uncle’s obituary. It was one of six in the December 1944 parish news.
“Mr. and Mrs. Casper Lump . . . have received the sad news that their son Frank . . . has been killed in action in Germany on October 8, 1944. . . . He was inducted into the service on June 10, 1941, and had been overseas two years. He took part in the invasion of Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium and Germany with only one brief holiday which he spent in England.”
The June 11 issue of Mercy News contained the following item: Frank Lump writes from Britain. “We have seen a lot of combat and we sure needed a rest. My pal and I go to confession and communion and mass every Sunday. . . . We have seen a lot of combat and we have been in places I thought we would never get out of. We do a lot of praying. . . . It gets pretty tough up there on the front lines. Jerry is nobody’s dummy. He’s pretty smart but we are just a little smarter. . . .”
I remember going with my grandmother many times to “decorate” Frank’s grave. She planted flowers, we had lunch, we prayed. She cried and at times touched his grave marker with tenderness as if she was touching her baby’s forehead. As the years have passed I have come to treasure this sacred experience and memory.
The famous World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin reflected on the first Memorial Day ceremony he attended after the conclusion of the war. It took place at a military cemetery and the local commander was asked to address the gathering, which included dignitaries from Congress and soldiers. He welcomed everyone and then instead of facing the crowd, he turned and faced the graves and spoke to the dead. He apologized for having to give orders that resulted in their deaths and thanked them for their sacrifice.
I hope that on Memorial Day each of us takes just a moment to stop what we are doing to remember the sacrifice the soldiers made and to thank them. They gave up their dreams so we can pursue ours. Please fly a flag in their memory this weekend.
God bless them, God bless you, and God bless America.
President and CEO
Wisconsin Restaurant Association