Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates men and women who died while in military service to the United States. First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War, it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars. It began separately in the North and South as a ritual of remembrance after the Civil War. By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. From its origins as a holiday on May 30 each year as Decoration Day, it began to be called Memorial Day in the early 20th century, but the name was not officially changed to Memorial Day until 1967. It became a national holiday occurring each year on the last Monday in May with the enactment of the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act that took effect in 1971.
Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season with Labor Day its end. I had hoped this year peoplewouldn’t take this weekend to celebrate the beginning of Summer, but I know many did so by taking vacations. My own sister took her family to the beach this weekend. If at anytime in our nation’s history we should stay home and honor those who perished fighting for freedom, it is now. We should be voluntarily giving up our freedoms for the safety of those around us. Those men and women who fought and died in war for our freedoms did not die so that people could be careless in a time of national emergency and gather in crowds to possibly spread a deadly disease.
For the last quarter-century of his life, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii carried on a lonely fight to restore Memorial Day to its proper focus as a time for honoring Americans who have lost their lives in service to our country. Inouye lamented that “in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer.” To rectify this state of affairs, Inouye in 1989 sponsored a Senate bill to restore Memorial Day to May 30. He reintroduced the measure in every single Congress thereafter as long as he lived. For the lastdecade of his life, the legislative effort to restore Memorial Day to its traditional date was a solo mission, stubbornly carried on by the decorated World War II veteran. His struggle to restore the meaning of Memorial Day is particularly important this year as we are facing this pandemic.
I read an article yesterday about the crisis facing Montgomery, Alabama, with the spread of COVID-19 and the fact that they have run out of ICU beds. Dr. David Thrasher, Director of Respiratory Therapy at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery pointed out that “The seasonal flu’s mortality is 0.1 percent. Today’s mortality on confirmed cases [of COVID-19] is six percent in the United States and 4 percent in Alabama. When it’s all said and done and a vaccine occurs and we are all vaccinated, or the virus burns out, I predict the overall mortality will be like 1.3 to 2 percent. That’s what the experts are saying. But that’s a lot of death. That’s 100 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”People need to take this into account as they claim their right to go and do when they can potentially be spreading a deadly disease than can be spread asymptotically. We know many people have COVID-19 without showing symptoms, but but by not staying home or at least social distancing and wearing masks in public they are potentially spreading the disease to people who will show symptoms and may die from the disease they caught from someone who didn’t even know they had it.