It's time we put the "memorial" back in Memorial Day.
This year, on Monday, May 29, Americans will celebrate Memorial Day, the one holiday set aside to remember the brave men and women who died in service to their country. As with so many other holidays, though, for far too many, it is simply a day off.
Four years ago, a group of schoolchildren touring the nation's capital was asked what Memorial Day meant to them. Their resounding reply: "That's the day the pools open!"
At that, the idea for a National Moment of Remembrance was born. Carmella LaSpada, who in 1971 founded "No Greater Love," a humanitarian organization devoted to remembering our war dead and their survivors, began to develop plans for a moment of remembrance. On Memorial Day 1997, at precisely 3 p.m., "Taps" was played on radio and television stations across the nation, and Americans paused to remember those who gave their lives to secure our freedom.
It was President John F. Kennedy who said, "The survival of freedom requires great cost and commitment and great personal sacrifice." Yet, on Memorial Day, shopping centers bustle with activity, and the excited squeals of children jumping off diving boards and playing Marco Polo in the pool mingle with the smoke of thousands of barbecue grills, the aroma of hot dogs and the taste of baked beans and lemonade. Memorial Day parades feature children on gaily decorated bikes riding alongside proud veterans, medals gleaming on freshly starched uniforms.
All this is great fun and a welcome way to usher in the summer, but amidst all the excitement, it's too easy to forget what Memorial Day is really all about.
This year, the President and Congress have joined together to endorse the National Moment of Remembrance. At exactly 3 p.m. local time on Monday, Americans all over the country will put down what they're doing, and pause for one minute in tribute to those who died defending our nation and its values.
At the request of the President, the White House Millennium Council has issued guidelines to help federal agencies, state and local governments, community organizations and even individual families mark this solemn moment.
This year, activities celebrating the occasion are planned across the nation. Greyhound bus terminals and several airports will ask patrons to pause at 3 p.m. while "Taps" -- the tune that so evocatively haunts military funerals -- is played over loudspeakers. The Mall of America in Minneapolis, as well as K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores, will also stop everything at 3 p.m. and play "Taps." The Times Square Jumbotron will show a specially produced National Moment of Remembrance video. And both the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Albany, N.Y., and Barnum's Kaleidoscape circus in Cleveland will halt their shows mid-act for a moment of silence and "Taps."
Solemn moments in the U.S. Capitol, at the Vietnam Memorial, every Veteran's hospital, the Liberty Bell, Ellis Island and 180 national parks will also mark the ultimate sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in uniform. And as befits our patriotic national pastime, at 3 p.m., the Colorado Rockies, the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees will halt play for a minute so their fans can join the thousands of other Americans who have also paused to remember.
In keeping with the theme of the White House millennium celebration -- "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future" -- Memorial Day offers us an opportunity to look back. As we remember the bloodiest century in history, it is important to recognize the mission that today's men and women in uniform share with their predecessors, especially those who risked their lives in battle so that generations to come would never live under tyranny and oppression. As we honor the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lie in marked and unmarked graves all over the world, we must also look to the future, and dedicate ourselves to a century of liberty, prosperity, common humanity and peace.
On Monday -- Memorial Day -- America will pay tribute to those fallen heroes who paid the ultimate price for my freedom and yours. At 3 p.m., no matter where you are or what you are doing, I hope you'll join the President and me as we pause for a National Moment of Remembrance.
If you'd like to learn more about the National Moment of Remembrance, you can visit the White House web site at www.whitehouse.gov/remembrance.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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