Commentary by Jeffery Hunt
50th Space Wing director of staff
During the last several months, I have been reminded of the commercialization of our holidays. We have a tendency to forget that the meaning of these days is to set aside time for reflection and understanding. What I want to do is to ensure we don’t forget the true meaning of some of our holidays specifically, Memorial Day and Independence Day.
As we have seen through the years, these days tend to be more about barbecues, picnics, concerts, huge discounts and blockbuster movie openings than reflection. I for one have taken advantage of these sales events, discounts and of course, got caught up in the glitz of the moment. As Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye once said, “We have lost sight of the significance of this day (Memorial Day) to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans; many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer.” This also applies to Independence Day, which of course is when we recognize the day we adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Recently, I’ve read several books that have reminded me of the meaning for these holidays. “The Spirit of Seventy-Six,” (The story of the American Revolution as told by participants), “John Adams,” (A Biography), “The Civil War,” (A three book series written by Shelby Foote), “Lee’s Lieutenant’s,” (A look at General Robert E. Lee’s key leaders during the Civil War) and “This Kind of War,” (A classic Korean War history). These are only a few that I have read through the years, but definitely ones that have stuck out to me.
Memorial Day started as Decoration Day. It is not wholly conclusive when and where the origins of this day began. It has many stories, but the intent was to enable many cities, towns and groups to honor those who served our country after the Civil War. History shows that this day was officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 by Gen. John Logan with the first official observation for those who died fighting in the Civil War. After World War I, it was changed to honor all of those who died in any war. Congress eventually passed the National Holiday Act of 1971 to ensure the last Monday of the month of May is the official Memorial Day.
Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It is interesting to note that John Adams had written to his wife Abigail about the day when the Second Continental Congress voted approving a resolution to separate from Great Britain. Here is an excerpt: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
The revolution was in itself the focus of what gave America its character and the ideals we have come to recognize and cherish. From the “Shot heard round the world” at Concord, through the devastating winter at Valley Forge, to the victory at Yorktown, the world basically turned itself upside down.
There are of course the popular slogans of the time. “I only regret I have but one life to lose for my country,” “I have not yet begun to fight,” and “As for me, give me liberty or give me death,” which demonstrated our character at the time.
The American Revolution was not just American history but a world event. As we have seen in the last 235 years, this new nation has had and continues to have a great influence in the world all because we had the great fortune of people like John Adams, Thomas Paine, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The fortitude of men and women who fought for our liberties and died so our nation can be what it is today is the most important.
Through the years, our beliefs and our character have been challenged, but we have endured. Many men and women, military and civilians, from the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War and now the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have given their last full measure of devotion to maintain this country’s freedoms and liberties.
I ask that while you enjoy your picnics, barbecues and discounts as I do, that you also remember the history of our country and the sacrifices of those who came before us. Take a few moments here and there to refresh your memories and share them with your children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends.
As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed — else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”