Given the partisan divide in our country, one expert thinks we should give the Memorial Day holiday more visibility.
Associate professor at Virginia Tech and retired U.S. Army veteran James Dubinsky thinks the holiday should bet a topic for study and reflection in all history classes.
“Memorial Day has a powerful national meaning in how it has been, on some level, not only a day of remembrance but also a day of reconciliation,” Dubinsky said. “As a lesson in civics or civic engagement, everyone could learn something of value.”
Most veterans, Dubinsky said, choose to commemorate Memorial Day privately. Dubinsky reads and reflects on poems about war and poems written by veterans to learn about healing from these conflicts.
“While it is a national holiday and many celebrate with picnics and parades, Americans would benefit from taking a few moments to stop and reflect on the meaning of the day – why it exists, when it came into being, what it says about our country, and how it came to honor those who died to preserve it,” Dubinsky said.
The holiday was first commemorated as Decoration Day a few years after the Civil War when veterans used flowers to decorate the graves of Union soldiers who died in combat. Veterans and families from the Confederate states held their own celebrations as well.
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the nation. It was not until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As a country, we might most effectively honor the many who have died for us by focusing on what all of us, the ‘we’ in ‘We the People,’ can do to preserve the U.S. they died serving,” he said. “On this day, rather than focusing on what divides us or on elevating differences, Americans might focus on what unites us and on respecting each person’s humanity, particularly those who serve to protect us.”