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Leatherwood: Original intent of Memorial Day holiday not lost

Leatherwood: Original intent of Memorial Day holiday not lost

For many, Memorial Day means a day off work, a chance to get together with family and friends for a barbecue, the unofficial start of summer and opening the pool. The purpose of Memorial Day — originally called Decoration Day — was to honor and remember those who lost their lives serving in the military.

Locally, there are a variety of ways that Carroll County honors our fallen military. The Westminster Memorial Day Parade is a Norman Rockwell, small town, all American celebration. There are also multiple places where memorial services are held and volunteers with groups like the American Legion place flags on many of the 3,500 veteran graves in Carroll County; a more traditional observance of Memorial Day.

More people, however will be simply enjoying the time off, finishing a project around the house, taking advantage of Memorial Day sales or catching up with friends. In our fast-paced lives, it is important to slow down, connect with family and relax. I will be spending part of the day at a graduation party (shout out, Christiana Homeschool Academy Class of 2016). I am not saying it needs to be a solemn day from dawn to dusk. However, I wonder, how did we move from a day dedicated to honor and remember to a day to mow and grill?

I think I found the culprit, or at least a reasonable scapegoat. I blame the watering down of a number of memorial holidays on Congress. Specifically, I blame The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. This act changed the official observance of four "date-driven" holidays to an assigned Monday to create a three-day weekend. In 1971, Washington's Birthday (Feb. 22), Memorial Day (May 30), Columbus Day (Oct. 12) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11) were all moved to a designated Monday. In 1978, Congress passed a law that changed Veterans Day back to Nov. 11. In 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday, it was designated as a January Monday, and is not necessarily celebrated on his actual birthday (Jan. 15).

How much do we really think about the original intent of the holiday? MLK Day and President's Day, found in the winter months are a chance to take a few days and head to a warmer climate, or go skiing. Memorial Day means the first long weekend in Ocean City. (From what I could find in Wikipedia, Labor Day was established in September, to avoid being too closely tied to International Workers Day, May 1.) I am not sure how Americans traditionally celebrate Columbus Day, maybe it is the day to start Christmas shopping? At least that is what the retailers would like you to do.

Memorial Day does not need to be limited. For our family, we honor and remember Chief Master Sgt. Richard B. Ely, United States Air Force. My brother-in-law, Rick, did not die on the battlefield, but ultimately lost his life way too early due to chemicals he was exposed to while on active duty. For his widow, his sons, his mother and his siblings, Memorial Day is each day that they live without him here. The birth of another sweet grandchild that will only know him from photos, a few videos and loving stories shared is a reminder of the loss. Seeing an old tractor Rick would have wanted to tinker with or talking to Miss Betty who was a cashier at George's when Rick bagged groceries alongside her bring about the memorial days not found in May.

Many families have similar stories, the loss of an aunt or uncle, a cousin, a grandparent or a beloved family friend that went off to serve and to protect and did not return home safely

I hope you have sweet, fond memories and stories to tell the next generation while you enjoy your family cookout this Memorial Day holiday.

Karen Leatherwood writes from Eldersburg. Reach her at

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