Memorial Day: The Day to Remember

I spend quite a bit of my time as your State Representative at public events in our city. Dinners. Meetings with community groups. Breakfasts. Award ceremonies. Commencements. Parades.

Most of these events are enjoyable enough. It is a pleasure-usually, fun!--to be a part of so many different activities. In fact, it is an honor to be invited, to be included. And a privilege to bring the "greetings of the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" to our citizens, young and old alike.

And then there is Memorial Day. I hope you'll be part of this city's celebrations on Monday. It's a day when we should all pause, and remember.

We have all heard the stories of the genesis of the holiday. Some say it started in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1864 when a daughter placed flowers on the grave of her father who was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Another story says it was April 1866 when a group of women from Columbus, Mississippi, decorated soldiers' graves at the site of the Civil War battle of Shiloh, where they placed flowers over the graves of soldiers. Of both sides.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), and other veterans' organizations, adopted the concept of honoring fallen soldiers. Finally, a Decoration Day service was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. Gradually, New York and other states adopted the date as a formal holiday.

Now celebrated as Memorial Day, Congress changed the official date to the last Monday in May. As the new century begins, we observe the day in Westfield, across the Commonwealth, across these great United States and in every country where American soldiers are buried.

Yes, we remember all who have died. One of my first memories is taking peonies to the graves of my great grandparents. Our parents, grandparents, children.

But, most of all, we honor our veterans, beginning with those who died in the Civil War. And those who made the ultimate sacrifice in a long list of wars and conflicts. The Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, and other conflicts and peace-keeping activities. Too long a list. Too many dead.

In my extended family there were no casualties or deaths from war. Some volunteered. Others had no choice because they were "drafted." There was the grandfather in the Spanish-American war. My father and an uncle who served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II. Another uncle in the Navy during that time. And my husband in the Air Force during the so-called "Vietnam Era."

Think about your own family members and friends who served. Perhaps they didn't make the ultimate sacrifice. But they gave of their time and talent to serve in the military. Interrupting careers. Leaving families for long periods of time. Serving their country. Coming back with diseases and bad memories.

Or maybe your family did lose a loved one in battle. So many families in Westfield have lost their soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

You, and I, should be proud of them. And we are.

This year at Parker Park, at the end of a parade, we will again remember them, thanks to the members of the American Legion and other veterans groups and civic minded citizens who, annually, make sure that we do remember.

The gathering this Monday won't be large. Not as many as you see at other events in the City. But the size of the crowd isn't as important as the fact that we are there to remember.

Maybe you'll rather just take some time, alone, to remember them. You don't have to be at a ceremony to remember. Just a few minutes of time to remember. Remember their sacrifice. Remember how lucky we are to be citizens of this country.

Remember the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted and sometimes abuse. The communities we live in and strive to make better places for all of our citizens, not just a privileged few. The right to pursue our dreams, while others struggle just to survive in so many parts of the world.

We all owe so much to our veterans, dead and alive. They gave their all. We can only remember them. We can only honor them.

We can never repay them. This is a huge debt we all owe. A debt we should never forget.

I hope you're there on Monday!

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