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A day to remember

Posted: May 22, 2014 3:01 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2014 5:00 a.m.

One of my responsibilities at the newspaper is to go out each week and do the “Sidewalk Survey” feature we run each Wednesday. Just in case you’re not aware of it, let me explain. I find six random people around town and ask them one opinion question. There are no right or wrong answers; it really is their opinion. If they’re willing to answer, I get their name and town of residence and take their photo. That’s where I lose some of them. A lot of people are willing to answer a question, but some balk when they learn their photo will be in the paper. I respect that and thank them and let them go on their way. A few rejections each week are common.

The questions are always light stuff like “what’s your favorite beach” or “what are you planning to do for your mother on Mother’s Day.” We often try to come up with a question about something in the news or related to an upcoming event or holiday.

That was the case this week as I went to Central Carolina Technical College (one of my best Sidewalk Survey locations) and asked students what they have planned for Memorial Day, this coming Monday. Most of the answers were what you would typically expect, with people planning to spend time with their children or have a cookout. Memorial Day signals the unofficial beginning of summer and brings along the summertime activities of barbecuing, picnicking, swimming, boating and other fun outdoor things we just don’t enjoy during winter.

But one young man from Cassatt gave me the most impressive, and most appropriate, answer of anyone. He said he was going to a cemetery to pay respects to a deceased friend who was a military veteran, and to others there. He was my sixth and final survey participant that day and I’m glad a couple of people before him turned me down, or I never would have met him and gotten his response.

I’m not saying for a second the other five respondents were wrong. As I said, Sidewalk Survey is all about opinions and nothing more. There is no right or wrong … but in this case I’ll say there are varying levels of right and that young man was more right than the others. Am I contradicting myself? Perhaps.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was first observed after the Civil War to commemorate those who died on both sides of that conflict. It later evolved into a day to remember those who died in all wars in which America (or the colonies) were involved. The first widely-publicized Decoration Day after the Civil War was held May 1, 1865, in our very own Charleston. The first usage of the term Memorial Day is said to have been in 1882, but the name didn’t really catch on until after WWII. It was declared the official name of the holiday in 1967 and the following year it was made a “Monday holiday” by Congress, along with three others.

Let’s all try to remember the origins of Memorial Day and the significance of it that, sadly, has been lost or at least greatly diminished by many of us, myself included. Take some time to think about the huge sacrifices made by those who fought for this country’s formation and for its preservation during the past 200-plus years. All of our lives have been affected by these brave men and women, even though we may not have ever known them. Even to this day, U.S. military personnel are in harm’s way in faraway lands to preserve democracy and our way of life. Some of those are also coming home to our cemeteries. The phrase “it’s the least we can do” is sometimes overused and is often used incorrectly. The least we can do is nothing at all. The next step up from the least we can do is to pause for a moment or two to reflect on why we’re able to be free to do just about anything we want on any day.

There’s plenty of time on Memorial Day and throughout the three-day weekend the holiday gives most of us to cook out, go to the lake, spend quality time with our family and friends and do any of the other things Memorial Day brings to mind. A minute of reflection won’t wreck anyone’s plans. So, remember this: Memorial Day is set aside as day to remember.

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