Today is Memorial Day, the day that Americans are suppose to remember those who died in service to the United States. But it has become something different. We may see on television the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, or a Governor laying a wreath at a War Memorial. Members of Service Organizations such as The American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars will go to memorial services and remember. For the rest of America, it is a day that we shop, we run to the beach, we try to take off Friday before for a 4 day weekend at some exotic local. But we do not stop and remember what the day really means.
It was not always this way. I remember a time when everyone honored America's fallen heroes, not just a few.
I can remember a Memorial Day when I was 4 years old. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was awoken early and told to come to breakfast.
My father was sitting at the kitchen table in his best suit. Not the best suit he would wear to synagogue or to take my mother out, but the one he only wore for special occasions. His tie was smartly done and the handkerchief in his pocket was perfectly placed. His shoes were shined to a high shine that one could see their reflection in.
He rose and kissed my mother, left the house quietly, not saying a word.
"Where's Papa going?" I asked my mother.
"To shul, to say Kaddush, the Prayer for the Dead." She answered.
"Many." My Grandmother said quietly.
After breakfast, my mother told me to wash up and put on my best dress. We were going into the city.
Going into the city was a special treat. I lived in Brooklyn and going into Manhattan was a big deal. There were buildings so tall that you couldn't see the sky, and the MUSEUM was there. You know, the one with the dinosaurs. I wonder if we were going there today. I hurriedly dressed.
It took me a while to dress, but when I returned my mother and grandmother both were wearing their best dresses and hats. I took my grandmother's hand as we left the house
"Are we going to the Museum?" I asked.
"No. We are going downtown to see the men march." My grandmother told me.
"A parade? With floats and balloons?" I was excited. I only saw the Thanksgiving Parade on television. It was exciting to watch.
"A parade yes, but there will be no balloon or floats. It is Memorial Day." My mother said quietly.
The trip by subway was fun. I always liked traveling by subway. I always sat on my mothers lap as we rode into the city.
When we climbed out of the subway we say people lining the street. The stores weren't open, each had a sign with an American Flag on was printed: Closed for Memorial Day. I couldn't read, but my mother read it to me.
A few restaurants were open though. I guess people still had to eat somewhere. We made our way to the edge of the street and waited for the parade. A vendor was selling American Flags, my grandmother bought each of us one.
"Where's Papa? Isn't he going to watch the parade?" I didn't want my father to miss the parade.
"He'll be here soon." My mother told me.
The parade started. Row after row of men and women marching down the street. Sometimes there would be a band who would play patriotic music, or a drummer.
I still hadn't seen my father, then there he was. He was marching with a group of men. He was in the third row and I never saw him look handsomer. I cried out: "That's my Daddy!" and waved my flag very hard. Someone patted me on my head.
Afterwards we met my father at the end of the parade route and as a family went out to dinner. My father explained to me that the men he marched with fought with him in THE WAR. And that today they were marching to remember those men they fought with that didn't return home. I didn't understand what he said, but I remembered the words he said.
Today men and women don't march down Main Street in remembrance. Instead they run to the beach, to the mountains, to the shops.
But I remember a time when shops would close for the day, and Americans would march to remember those who gave their lives for the nation we love.
This Memorial Day I will not be at the beach, mountains nor at the shops. I will light the barbecue and spend the day with my family. And I will say a prayer for those who gave their all for this nation and the freedoms we enjoy.
G-d Bless Them For Their Sacrifice!
G-d Bless America!