Memorial Day: Has the meaning been lost? |

Memorial Day: Has the meaning been lost?

For many people, the Memorial Day weekend means the community pool is open for the season.

For others, it’s time to slather on the suntan lotion, knock back a few cold ones and throw a burger on the hot coals.

For others still, it means a day off – with pay.

But for Charles Thomas of Silverthorne, the day offers a chance to remember his friends who died in Vietnam, the work his grandfather did to secure freedom during World War II and the time his uncle served in Korea.

More than 100 people spent an hour at the

Dillon Cemetery Monday to honor those who fought in America’s wars. It was a time of

reflection, of tears and speeches urging people not to forget what the country’s veterans have done.

The ceremony opened with Boy Scout Troop 288 presenting the national flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. It proceeded with speeches, poems, prayers and tears.

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said that when he was growing up in Iowa, the town celebrated Decoration Day by sprucing up the local graveyard.

In fact, the day wasn’t an official American holiday until the late 1960s – although people had been honoring the war dead for a century before Congress declared the last Monday in May as Memorial Day.

In 1868, 3,000 people a day were killed on the battlefield of the Civil War. To honor them, a general placed blood-red poppies on every grave, for soldiers from the North and the South, to remember what they gave so others could be free.

Few know the pain of someone lost in war.

Marty Helldorfer, vice-president of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, cited a Utah newspaper article about a woman grilling burgers this past weekend. Her 21-year-old son had been deployed to Iraq and died in a six-hour gun battle April 4.

“Last Memorial Day now seems so selfish,” she was quoted as saying. “Everything since his death is different. It used to be barbecue and hanging out with friends. But until you know the death of a loved one, you do not know the significance of Memorial Day.”

“We are celebrating everyone who is buried in the cemetery,” Helldorfer said. “No soldier, no sailor serves alone; they are all linked to someone – parents, buddies, friends, brothers. They go to serve our country, and we go with them. The dead are a gift to us. Our lives are built from theirs.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude so we could be free,” said Frisco Mayor Bob Moscatelli. “We can repay that debt by remembering.”

Too many don’t bother, he said, citing a “man on the street” question posed by a local reporter asking people what Memorial Day means to them.

One said it was “for some crazy war so we can get a paid holiday.” Another said he knew it was for something but wasn’t sure what. A third said Memorial Day provides people with another excuse to party. The fourth said the holiday “gives people a day off work to remember that war sucks.”

“Their ignorance is unforgivable,” Moscatelli said. “Many Americans don’t know or don’t give a damn.”

He recited the American Collegiate dictionary’s definitions of hero, ranging from “men of great courage and strength” to “a sandwich.” His favorite is, “Any man noted for his feats of courage, his nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked his life.”

Dillon Town Manager Jack Benson, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, said he wasn’t sure what he was contributing to the U.S. when he traipsed through the jungle thousands of miles away from home. Now, he does.

“Because of war heroes, I believe in the United States of America,” he said. “Because of them, I believe in this government and in the institution of government and the freedom that government underpins.”

Monday, he was remembering his family, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the struggles in the Middle East and, he said with his voice cracking, his son’s departure on a Navy ship to an overseas destination.

“This event is not about just the fallen,” he said. “It’s about ordinary people who are asked to do extraordinary things.”

Helldorfer said he visited his mother’s grave Sunday and noticed how others in the cemetery stepped around – never on – grave sites.

“These are sacred places,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be incredible if the deference we give to our loved ones could be brought back into our workaday lives? That’s the gift of this place: Remembering the sacredness of the world and the life we all share.”

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