Sandler: Don’t forget the meaning of Memorial Day

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Sandler: Don’t forget the meaning of Memorial Day

Jillian Sandler, Opinion Editor

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Memorial Day weekend is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a symbol of the impending summer, a marker of the fact we’re almost free from the constraints of academia.

But frankly, these reasons for enjoying Memorial Day weekend are rooted in frivolity. As fun as the barbeques and long weekends are, Memorial Day is not about any of that. It’s about remembering those who laid down their lives to give us our freedoms. It’s about honoring the men and women who are fighting or have fought to protect this country. It’s about thanking the families who have made incredible sacrifices on behalf of the United States of America.

It’s pretty scary to think a lot of us are losing sight of that.

A likely reason for this is the passing of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act by Congress in 1968. Enacted in 1971, the law moved several holidays to Mondays to make for long weekends. Memorial Day was moved from its traditional date of May 30 to the last Monday in May. Daniel Inouye, the late Hawaii senator and World War II veteran, sponsored a bill in 1989 to move the day of remembrance back to its original date of May 30. He introduced the same bill in every Congress afterward throughout his lifetime, according to a post by Daniel Treiman published Monday on The Hill’s Congress Blog. The bill repeatedly failed, and none like it currently exists in Congress.

Even though most people probably appreciate the three-day weekend, the problem here is that Memorial Day isn’t a holiday that is isolated enough for people to acknowledge it to the extent it deserves. As Treiman mentions, it’s thrown into the midst of a slew of events. Poolside barbeques, beach outings, senior proms, weddings and graduations dominate American lives. For many, the last Monday in May naturally is akin to the end of any weekend, consisting of rushed attempts to finish chores and homework in preparation for the week ahead. Remembering to honor and thank our soldiers easily falls by the wayside.

But maybe so much of the dismissal of Memorial Day is also rooted in the loss of means we often use to help us remember those who fought so valiantly. An article published Sunday in the Huffington Post detailed struggles around the country to maintain decaying memorials in the face of financial hardship. In Hawaii, for instance, many are grappling with whether to tear down the Waikiki Natatorium. The saltwater pool was built in 1927 to honor the 10,000 soldiers from Hawaii who served in World War I but is badly corroded and regarded as a safety hazard. Rebuilding it may cost close to $70 million.

In this day and age, people aren’t inclined to want to spend money on renovating memorials when there may be more immediate needs on hand. Most people are so far removed from the wars of the 20th century. Dollars are needed to dig us out of debt, to create jobs and to fund health insurance, and beautiful but decaying tributes may need to be sacrificed to make this happen. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s the reality of today’s society.

To remember, though, we don’t need something tangible. We just need to be aware of what’s happening overseas today, to know what happened in the wars of the past. We need to take a few minutes out of our busy lives and eventful three-day weekends to appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers make. We need to take care of them when they return to U.S. soil.

Maybe in the future, Memorial Day will be moved back to May 30. Perhaps that will help make the day more distinguished and make us more likely to remember it.

Or we can do an even greater deed. We can thank the members of our armed forces every day, not just on a few designated holidays.

Jillian Sandler is a Communication junior and The Daily’s Opinion editor. She can be reached at jilliansandler2014@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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