When I was growing up in southwest Missouri, we decorated the graves of everyone on Memorial Day. That was just after World War II, so we understood well the debt we owed to our soldiers. Memorial Day was established to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War and was changed after World War I to honor all who had died in war. But in the ’40s and ’50s, Memorial Day was a day to remember all those who had gone before us, not just those who had died in war.
I was never a big fan of Decoration Day, as we called it. When life left the body, I pretty much lost interest. However, setting aside a specific day to remember our loved ones seemed a good thing. A day honoring only those who have lost their lives in war seems to diminish in particular the contribution of those who gave their lives to public service who did not die in war. Who has given the most, the soldier who served four months in Iraq and was killed by an IED or the teacher who gave 40 years in a classroom and was killed by a heart attack? Both gave their lives for others, by choice, not of necessity. I certainly am not opposed to a day honoring solders who gave their lives to their country in war, but how about also honoring teachers, nurses, medical technicians, social workers, and others who gave their lives to their country in peace?