Monday, May 30, 2011

In Remembrance

by C.J. Chase

Today is Memorial Day in the US. Not just Memorial Day Observed, but the bonafide, May 30th thing, the original day Americans set aside to honor deceased service members. Commemorations for fallen soldiers began in the years immediately following the Civil War when family members decorated the graves of loved ones who had died during the conflict. And then in the way of all governments who can't leave well enough alone, Congress tampered with it. In 1971, Congress moved the observance to the last Monday in May. Though some still observe the day's purpose of solemn remembrance, for many more Memorial Day has become just another three-day weekend, the start of the summer season.

For years, my family observed the holiday with a drive to the Capitol for the annual National Memorial Day Concert, an evening of patriotic music and solemn stories. And then we left the Washington, D.C. area. We still try to catch the concert on TV (8:00 pm Eastern on PBS), but it isn't the same as being there, and over the years, our "observation" has become more of the yard work and picnics type.

"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it," wrote British statesman Edmund Burke. Given the current state of civics knowledge, we may soon be testing Burke's statement.

Several years ago, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) administered a series of exams to college students and the population at large, testing their knowledge of American history, government, foreign affairs and economics. The results? 71% scored an F. The average score was a 46%. Among seniors at 25 of the most selective colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et al), the average score was a whopping 59%.

Just thinking of those people in the voting booth is enough to give an informed, concerned citizen nightmares. We are a society losing our collective memory. And, it seems, our collective mind.

For over 20 years, US Senator Daniel Inouye has led a movement to restore the significance of Memorial Day by moving the observance back to May 30. Ten years ago, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance to be observed at 3:00 pm local time throughout the country on Memorial Day. One can't help wondering, however, in a country where only 21% of ISI's test takers correctly identified "government of the people, by the people, for the people" as a line from the Gettysburg address, how many people even know about the minute of silence?

Sadly, ignorance extends beyond the history of country. Over 80% of Americans may claim to be Christian, but only a fraction of them know much about Christianity. A Pew Research Center study in 2010 reported that fewer than half of American Protestants could identify Martin Luther as the leader of the Protestant Reformation. Worse, the knowledge crisis extends to the Bible itself. The Bible might be the best selling book of all time, but according to a Gallup survey, only 16% of American Christians read it daily. That might explain why half of the incoming freshmen at Wheaton College -- the most prestigious Christian college in America (average SAT scores in the 600-700 range per subject)  -- didn't know the Christmas story is found in the book of Matthew.

The Bible is clear that we are to learn God's Word and teach it to our children. "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7, NIV). Over and over the prophets warned of the punishments sure to follow if the people ignored God's commands.

Remembrance is important. "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord--a lasting ordinance" (Exodus 12:14) God told Moses before the first Passover. Centuries later, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. On the night he was betrayed, he led his disciples in a Passover dinner and told them that henceforth, every time they partook in communion, they were to do it "in remembrance of me."

Fortunately, we have a God who who remembers His promises, even when we forget ours. And even better, we have a God who promises to forget. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:34).

This Memorial Day, I challenge you to remember.

How are you observing Memorial Day? Do you attend any nearby observances? 

C.J. Chase writes for Love Inspired Historicals. Her debut novel, the winner of RWA's 2010 Golden Heart award for best inspirational romance, will be available in August under the title Redeeming the Rogue. C.J. lives in the swamps of Southeastern Virginia with her handsome husband, active sons, one kinetic sheltie, and an ever-increasing number of chickens. When she is not writing, you will find her gardening, watching old movies, playing classical piano (badly) or teaching a special needs Sunday School class. You can read an excerpt of her book at:


  1. Excellent!! On this Memorial Day. This was interesting and very informational. I had no idea it dated back so far and that there is still some controversy about the date. Thank you for the tribute.

  2. Memorial Day is celebrated on May 30th in the town of Waterloo NY, "the birthplace of Memorial Day" regardless of the weekday it falls on.

    I couldn't agree with you more when it comes to the apathy many people have to our amazing history as a country and beyond that, the personal history we each have. I'm so thankful that I never had to send my sons off to war.

    A beautiful reminder CJ.
    Thank you.

  3. Many American citizens have no idea what it is like to serve their country and take for granted what our military service men and women go through to protect all Americans Freedoms. Many are complacent ignorant fools that say stupid things when they have no clue what it is like to be in the boots of the true American Hero’s that are fighting for them. True Americans will Never Forget your Incredible Valor. I say God Bless our Fallen Hero's and thank you from every fiber of my being.

  4. Excellent post, CJ.

    Up here in Canada we observe our fallen heroes on Remembrance Day which always falls on Nov 11th. At the end of October Legion members sell the 1.5 inch red poppies which is an instant icon of Remembrance Day. The poppies are worn on the lapel or over the heart and all profits go back to the veterans and their benevolent funds.

    I'm afraid many Canadians forget the veterans throughout the rest of the year. Recently however, the government has come out with new license plates that designate a veteran's vehicle.

    Two things happen whenever I see that white plate with red poppy... I remember those who sacrificed for our country... and I wonder the age of the driver. In the latter case, I give him respect and stay clear because usually the vets who get those plates are senior citizens.

    Happy Memorial Day, America.

    Anita Mae.

  5. CJ, I can only imagine what it would be like to celebrate Memorial Day in DC. I feel sad that patriotism seems to have gone the way of so many things that used to be so important to us. I come from a strong military family background, and though my husband isn't in the military, his father was, and our son was. My heart is with every American soldier, whether at home or away at war.

    Thanks CJ.

  6. Make Money -- glad you found the post interesting. I'm not sure moving the date back to May 30 permanently would make a lot of difference. Seems to me that our collective memory loss is symptom of a deeper problem that mere date changes won't solve. (We haven't changed the day we observe Christmas on, and still we have a Biblical literacy problem among Christians.)

    Deb, my research showed that half a dozen places claim to be the originators of memorial observances, but Waterloo seemed to be the one most closely linked with the May 30 date. Nice to know there are some places that hold to traditions.

    Perfect -- I want to echo your sentiments. Thanks to all who serve and sacrifice in the armed forces, and especially to those who are away from their families on holidays such as today.

  7. Anita, we also observe Remembrance Day (called Veterans Day in the US) and it is one of the holidays that hasn't been changed to a perpetual Monday. Sadly, I think it is observed even less than Memorial Day. And, even though I'm not Canadian, on behalf of people everywhere who value freedom, thank you for your service, Anita.

  8. Suzie, the Memorial Day concert is wonderful, and really helps you focus on the meaning behind the observance. If you are ever in DC for a Memorial Day weekend, you should be certain to make time for the concert. When we first started going, the honored guests were veterans and families of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Most of the WWII vets are gone now and vets and survivors of new wars have taken their place. Makes you yearn for the time when there will be no more war.

  9. Thanks for remembering my service, CJ. And that reminded me... it won't be too long before I'll be eligible for one of those veteran license plates and others will steer clear around me. Eeps!

  10. Anita, I also thank you for your service, and I truly am sorry I didn't remember. I'm glad CJ did. God bless you, Anita, and when you get those plates on your car, display them proudly.

  11. Thank you for the powerful post, CJ. I'd never heard about the moment of silence! What a good idea. Of course a single moment is hardly enough to pray and reflect on the sacrifices so many have made to keep us free.

    And thank you to Anita and all whom we hold dear who have served to protect the rest of us.

  12. Thanks for the great reminder, C.J. And for not only stressing that we remember our country's heritage and the cost, but also our heritage of faith!

  13. I've been pondering this since yesterday, CJ. I've come to the conclusion that since Memorial Day and Remembrance Day are holidays from work and school, we tuck it in our holiday folders behind Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Yon Kipper, etc and only take them out when they're 'in season'.

    I remember Mom shushing us when we sang Christmas carols in the summer, as I've been known to do to my children. *cringe* Yet we should be praising God for sending his son every day of the year.

    Anita Mae.

  14. CJ,
    Wonderful post! (I'm late responding, since I had no Internet on Monday... talk about a "moment of silence.")
    I have the privilege of pulling headlines from copies of our local newspaper for the past 125 years every week for a "Days Gone By" column. I go through 125 years ago, 50 years, 25 years. I've come to the conclusion that everything is simply a big circle. Probably because we are so ignorant of history.


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