I suppose I’m not alone in saying that I can’t wait for Memorial Day weekend. Three days of outdoor activities, good food and time spent with family. And if the forecast holds true, it might even be our first prolonged taste of summer here in Routt County.
The upcoming holiday weekend also serves as Steamboat’s unofficial kickoff to the summer tourism season. There will be sidewalk sales at businesses along Lincoln Avenue downtown, not to mention the 30th annual Yampa River Festival, featuring all kinds of spectator-friendly events. Monday’s Paddling Life Pro Invitational will see some of the world’s best kayakers thrashing through the rapids on Fish Creek and the Yampa River.
And before we know it, we’ll be heading back to work Tuesday. Somewhere in our minds, we’ll be counting down the days until our next extended weekend or summer vacation.
But how many of us will take the time Monday to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day and why it is a national holiday? Will we interrupt our scheduled outings to attend one of the local Memorial Day services?
Sadly, the answer for most of us is “no,” and I am no exception. So here’s a little history for those of us who could benefit from it:
■ Memorial Day’s roots are in the aftermath of the Civil War, when women gathered to mark the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Three years after the end of the war, Decoration Day was established to set aside time for the nation to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. Decoration Day was declared for May 30, supposedly because it was a date on which flowers would be in bloom across the country.
■ It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor fallen soldiers from all American wars, not just the Civil War.
■ In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day in honor of a ceremony that had taken place there May 5, 1866.
■ In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to take place on the last Monday in May.
■ In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act,” creating a White House Commission whose charter is to encourage and coordinate Memorial Day ceremonies and commemorations. A national moment of remembrance is at 3 p.m. Monday.
There are at least two local Memorial Day ceremonies. The first is an 11 a.m. ceremony in Steamboat Springs Cemetery. Hayden’s ceremony is at 6 p.m. in the cemetery there.
Information wasn’t available Wednesday about whether Oak Creek is holding a ceremony this year.
All ceremonies are open to the public.
Even if you can’t attend a ceremony, consider hanging the American flag outside your home Monday. At the very least, observe the national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. and honor the 1.1 million Americans who have died in battle with a moment of silence and gratitude for their sacrifice.
Finally, consider the words of John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic who issued the first Memorial Day order in 1868. More than 140 years later, his message holds true.
“We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, ‘of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors and Marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.’ What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
“If other eyes grow dull and other hinds slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
“Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the nation’s gratitude — the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”