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Paul D. Shinkman,
WASHINGTON - In an era of beach trips and opening the summer house, some who take comfort in the true purpose of Memorial Day believe its meaning has lost its lustre.
It prompts the question on the hallowed weekend of remembrance: What does Memorial Day mean to you?
WTOP's David Burd, a Marine Corps drill instructor veteran, says the smells of his time in the armed forces come to mind first. He remembers Kiwi shoe polish, mothballs, Mennen aftershave (issued to every Marine recruit) and Duraglit metal polish, a chemically soaked cotton substance used to shine brass belt buckles.
"Most young men and women don't join the armed services these days and cannot relate to the sacrifices that are made when you join the service," Burd says. "Our wars are not a shared experience like they were before the draft was halted in 1972."
It isn't even apparently clear that we are a nation at war, he says, pointing to a relatively small number of men and women shouldering the military burden of a draw-down in Iraq and an active front in Afghanistan.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first proclaimed in 1868 by Gen. John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, according to USMemorialDay.org, as a commemoration for those who have died in service to the U.S. It was first observed on May 30 of that year, by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.
It is also designed to be a date of particularly disciplined observance of the nation's traditions. For example, flag etiquette -- such as not flying the flag unless properly lit and not letting it touch the ground -- used to be synonymous with this holiday weekend, along with tending the graves of fallen soldiers. That is less true today, as flags are placed in Arlington National Cemetery largely by soldiers from the Army honor guard.
In a weekly address to open the Memorial Day holiday, President Barack Obama said the occasion should be more than just "a three-day weekend," as Americans "fire up the grill" and relax.
"In town squares and national cemeteries, in public services and moments of quiet reflection, we will honor those who loved their country enough to sacrifice their own lives for it," he said.
"But on Memorial Day, we come together as Americans to let these families and veterans know that they are not alone."
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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