Honoring Memorial Day

On Memorial Day this year, Andover students will be spending the majority of their time taking exams and tests or turning in papers while the rest of the country upholds its proud tradition of paying tribute to its honored dead. For many years, Andover has not recognized the holiday to keep the traditional schedule for the last week of school and Commencement. But no matter how inconveniently the day may come, Andover should wholly recognize Memorial Day as a day for students to honor our nation’s fallen heroes and commemorate their acts of courage and devotion. We, as Americans, are deeply indebted to those men and women who paid for the freedoms we enjoy today, and therefore have a civic obligation to repay them for their sacrifices. Additionally, the remembrance of America’s honored dead is an opportunity to inspire students. The short ceremony which the school has scheduled is far from adequate for students to carry out this obligation or acquire this inspiration. The tradition of Memorial Day in America began immediately after the Civil War, when both the North and the South celebrated the devotion of the slain soldiers. Widows in the South would pay homage to their husbands by decorating their graves with flowers, and towns in the North had their own celebrations. The creation of the traditional Memorial Day is said to have taken place in May 1866 in Waterloo, NY, when two Union generals led a remembrance ceremony and ordered the memory of killed Union soldiers to be observed at that time each year thereafter. After World War I, when Americans from all over the continent gave their lives, both the North and South began to recognize the day together, commemorating all of Americas fallen soldiers. For the first time in half a century, Americans were able to unite through the memories of the lost soldiers. After the unity was further strengthened in World War II, Memorial Day grew immensely in popularity and officially became a national holiday in 1971. Thus Memorial Day in America not only symbolizes the many instances that American soldiers have fought to defend her freedom but also the reunion of the states after the Civil War. To go even a year without remembering the sacrifices and service of America’s fallen heroes would be a total injustice to the soldiers themselves and an abuse of the freedom for which they gave their lives. It is also important that Americans commemorate them as one, symbolizing the reestablished unity of the states by remembering their honored dead. Each and every American has a civic duty to honor those hundreds of thousands of men each year for the unity which they helped to reestablish. While Memorial Day’s primary purpose is to commemorate, by nature it also inspires. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., son of the alumnus for which our library is named, noted in an 1884 Memorial Day speech in Keene, New Hampshire, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statues and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life.” In other words, Holmes believed that the enthusiasm and faith of all of those who gave their lives are far more valuable to American youth than any monument of peaceful living. Though he supported the Union, his admiration was not limited to just Union troops, as he noted that although the South “held just as sacred convictions that were the opposite of ours, we respected them as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.” More notably, Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address called for Americans to be inspired by the conviction “that from these honored dead, we take increased devotion…” The principles of honor and devotion continue to be valuable to American society, but PA does little to ensure its students uphold these values, as demonstrated by the faculty’s recent vote in agreement on the need for a breathalyzer to quell the dishonesty of students in the D.C. system. Memorial Day is a great opportunity for the school to promote these values. But on Memorial Day this year, students will be far too busy to do very much commemorating. The school will hold a brief, optional service for students between Assessment Periods. While the effort is earnest, a short ceremony will certainly not be enough to commemorate 231 years of American courage or to inspire the kind of honor and devotion the student body needs. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the school does a wonderful job of using the national holiday to allow students to appreciate the principles of equality promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by holding mandatory workshops for all students. A similar concept for Memorial Day could definitely inspire some value of honor in students. As a school that already commemorates the sacrifices of American soldiers in a physical sense with vast memorial sites-the Borden Memorial Gym, the Memorial Bell Tower, the Case Memorial Cage, and Memorial Place-it only makes sense that we should spend the national holiday actually taking the time to preserve in a spiritual sense the memory of those for whom these sites are built. This remembrance would not only fulfill our civic obligation but also inspire much-needed values of honor and devotion.