Memorial Day has come and passed. For many people, the day marks the unofficial beginning of Summer and is celebrated with outdoor activities galore. However, many of us know few details about the official reason for the holiday other than it is a day set aside to honor those who lost their lives in battle. According to the website www.usmemorialday.org, “Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.” How many of us honored those who fell for our country?
I remember my parents – my father in particular who served in the Army during the Korean War (but was stationed in Germany) – used to always make sure he had a flag hanging from our house on those special days ie. Memorial Day, July 4th, etc. Many of our neighbors did the same thing. I liked walking along and seeing all the flags up and felt a certain pride in my family and in the country. However, not only do I not put up a flag at my own house on those special days, I forgot we even had a flag in my house till my wife reminded me. My only celebration of the holiday that in any way hearkens to its original intention is to go to the parade in the small town my family and I reside in. The local fire company, policemen, etc. march along with the veterans. I clap out of respect when the veterans pass along the parade route.
I consider myself a patriotic person and feel proud to be an American. My background is right out of a history book and can be told to the tune of G-d Bless America in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Here is the short version: my maternal grandparents, along with their immediate families, escaped from their small shtetels in Russia and ultimately came to America for religious freedom and economic opportunity. For my father’s side, change grandparents to great-grandparents, and the rest is the same. Therefore, I have every reason to be grateful to this country and those who lost their lives while battling its wars.
SY and I were walking to synagogue just before Memorial Day. A funeral home is on our route and it was covered in American Flags. I asked my son what did he see and when he said the American Flag. I proceeded to ask him if he knew why there was so many. He did not know. Not surprising. I tried to explain a bit about Memorial Day and what it means to be patriotic.
In the high school where I teach, the pledge of allegiance is read aloud over the PA system. Prior to reading the pledge, the reader asks that everyone stand. In my nearly 9 full years of teaching, I have never seen any person get up other than a few freshmen who stop standing before it hits October. I, on the other hand, stop class, stand up and face the flag. The class which is made up of 100% minorities, many of whom are first or second-generation Americans, are completely disinterested. When President Obama, a man of a mixed racial background became President, I hoped that students would be inspired. They were for a few days – wearing buttons and proudly watching the inauguration. However, that enthusiasm has waned and the students have lost what little interest they had in the country they now call home.
So, I wonder about the drop off in patriotism. Will the next generation feel any pride in their country? If so, how will they express it? What can I do as a parent and a teacher to instill that pride? I hope at a minimum they will recognize the great sacrifices that some have made and continue to make for this country, so that they can express pride while they freely take all the benefits that are available to them.