As I have written in past columns, it seems that I am called upon to write on special weekends. And this is no exception to that history. Memorial Day is indeed a very special day in our country. It is a time to pause and honor the men and women who have died serving in our Armed Services defending our country and all the values that we cherish. I lost an uncle in World War II and our family, like so many others, suffered the loss of a young man in his prime.
Let me be clear, Memorial Day is not a holiday. It is a solemn remembrance of those who gave their all for us. So even with a day off from work, family gatherings and picnics, let’s not forget the reverence of this day.
As a child in Pittsburgh it was indeed a very special day. Back in the day, the name given to this remembrance was Decoration Day and graves of decreased vertans were graced with flags and all of us found ways to fly the flag and/or place red, white and blue bunting on our doors and porches. In addition, we kids would decorate our bikes with ribbons and other patriotic symbols and have the honor of riding in the neighborhood parades of veterans and bands. We were proud and pleased to be part of something that was both solemn and a public display of deep gratitude.
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The day was especially significant to us youngsters where I lived because a huge cemetery was located in the middle of our neighborhood in Pittsburgh and this was the only day we were allowed to ride our bikes through the entire expanse of this sacred place. Throughout the cemetery there were multiple graves of veterans with flags stiffened by the wind. We would ride silently past these graves and, in our own way, salute these honored soldiers. It was an experience that has lasted a lifetime.
And as I recollect that experience, I can think of no better way to conclude this column than the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: “ Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living , rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
So let us all take the time this weekend to find the time to remember those who have died in service to our country. God Bless them, their families and our country!
Next week: Steve Warnstadt
A Sioux City resident, Jim Rixner is the retired executive director of the Siouxland Mental Health Center, is the current board chairman of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System and is a former member of the Sioux City Council. He and his wife, Bernadette, are the parents of three adult sons and the grandparents of nine.