Memorial Day Tribute
Memorial Day Is About Remembrance, Not Shopping
By Sarah Smiley
The day after Thanksgiving, I woke up at an ungodly hour to stand in line at Toys R Us and buy my boys a stuffed donkey from the movie "Shrek." On New Year's Day, I ran out to the department stores and bought some make-up to get a "free gift." And, yes, I once dove on my belly into a room filled with so many "clearance shoes" that I couldn't see the carpet below.
Yes, I love a sale.
But each year at about this time, I open the newspaper and see words that make my deal-loving heart cringe: Memorial Day Sale, Memorial Day Extravaganza, Memorial Day Clearance and, absolutely the most shocking, Memorial Day Blowout Sale.
Since when did Memorial Day become synonymous with shopping? Why has the day we've set aside to honor those who died for our freedom become nothing more than a reason to buy a new mattress?
At what point did we begin to associate Memorial Day with everything - "the day the neighborhood pool opens," "the day our family eats fried chicken in the park," "the day I can start wearing white shoes again," etc. - other than a time to remember and honor those who have died for our country?
I don't have these answers, so I set out to do some research and was immediately sidetracked by one site in particular, ArlingtonCemetry.org.
Here's what I learned:
- Each year, just before Memorial Day weekend, every soldier in the 3rd US Infantry, assigned to Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery, works around the clock to place more than 280,800 small American flags precisely one-foot and centered in front of every gravestone and niche. The ceremony is known as "flags in," and the 3rd US Infantry remains at the cemetery all weekend to ensure that no flag is removed.
- The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - no matter the weather - by Tomb Guard Sentinels, all volunteers from the 3rd US Infantry.
- Before being granted the privilege to volunteer as a Tomb Guard Sentinel, soldiers are put through a rigorous selection process. Among the many requirements, soldiers must memorize seven pages of the cemetery's history and recite it verbatim, and memorize the history and gravestone location of more than 300 veterans.
- Select Guards who pass more intensive testing will be given the honor of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge. Since the prestigious badge was created in 1958, only 539 soldiers have earned the right to wear one.
- The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is unique in that it can be revoked, even after the soldier is no longer on active duty, for any behavior that is deemed dishonorable to the Tomb.
Clearly, the United States Military views Memorial Day and its veterans as deserving of more than a 50 percent-off discount. For them, Memorial Day isn't just a day off. In fact, it is a day of great work and dedication.
Yet, obviously, we can't all be at Arlington National Cemetery this Memorial Day. And certainly, the majority of us don't have near the discipline to be a Tomb Guard Sentinel. But we can do our part. We can honor Memorial Day the way it should be honored - with remembrance.
This holiday weekend, save time to remember. It is a time to be thankful. It is a time to be grateful. And save the shopping for another day.
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Sarah Smiley is the wife of a Navy pilot and daughter of a retired Navy pilot. Her syndicated column "Shore Duty" appears weekly in military and civilian newspapers across the country.