Solemn day seen as cultural casualtyBy Michael Rubinkam Associated Press
ANNVILLE, Pa. — Allison Jaslow heard it more than once as the long holiday weekend approached – a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day!” from oblivious well-wishers.
The former Army captain and Iraq War veteran had a ready reply, telling them, matter-of-factly, she considered it a work weekend. Jaslow will be at Arlington National Cemetery today to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She’ll then visit Section 60, the final resting place of many service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You can see it in people’s faces that they’re a little horrified that they forget this is what the day’s about,” said Jaslow, 34, who wears a bracelet bearing the name of a fallen comrade. “Culturally, we’ve kind of lost sight of what the day’s supposed to mean.”
While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer – think beaches and backyard barbecues – some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors more than 1 million people who died serving their country would command more respect.
Or at least awareness.
“It’s a fun holiday for people …” said Carol Resh, 61, whose son, Army Capt. Mark Resh, was killed in Iraq a decade ago. “It’s not that they’re doing it out of malice. It just hasn’t affected them.”
Veterans groups say a growing military-civilian disconnect contributes to a feeling that Memorial Day has been overshadowed. More than 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the armed forces during World War II.
That’s down to less than one-half of a percent today, guaranteeing more Americans aren’t personally acquainted with a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
With an all-volunteer military, shared sacrifice is largely a thing of the past – even as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 16 years after 9/11.
“There are a lot of things working against this particular holiday,” said Brian Duffy, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“It hurts,” Duffy said. For combat veterans and Gold Star families especially, “it hurts that, as a society, we don’t truly understand and appreciate what the true meaning of Memorial Day is.”
Jaslow’s group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is trying to raise awareness with its #GoSilent campaign, which encourages Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. today to remember the nation’s war dead.
Of course, plenty of Americans observe the holiday. At Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Pa., fresh flowers mark hundreds of graves, and fields of newly erected American flags flap in the breeze. By the end of the weekend, thousands of people will have come to pay their respects.
Some veterans say Memorial Day began to be watered down more than four decades ago when Congress changed the date from its traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May to give people a three-day weekend. Arguing that transformed a solemn day of remembrance into one of leisure and recreation, veterans groups have long advocated a return to May 30. For years, the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, asked Congress to change it back, to no avail.